Thursday, 17 March 2016
Social Services Legislation Amendment (Interest Charge) Bill 2016; Second Reading
I rise to continue my contribution from earlier today on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Interest Charge) Bill 2016.
In conclusion, I thank the member for Dunkley for the wonderful work that he has done in this chamber over a long period of time. His leadership in the small business area has been a standard for the rest of us. His dedication to the small business community has made us all proud. I am proud to call him my friend, and I will miss him.
I rise to speak on the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Interest Charge) Bill 2016. I support the bill. Actually, there is more!
I would like to make some valedictory remarks. Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, you might well recall we were not sitting far from here—we were sitting over there—and it is amazing how, over the course of 20 years, I have managed to move four metres. But I hope that is not the mark of what I have been able to achieve over those 20 years. It was a tough decision to not recontest the next election. I love the community I represent. I grew up there; it runs through my veins; I know its rhythms, and I know the people. It is a spectacular place. It is the Riviera of Melbourne! For anyone who doubts that, just come down and get a piece of it. I will talk more about the local scene shortly and reflect on some of the things that have happened in the course of seven elections in a marginal seat.
It is slightly an understatement to say that marginal seat elections are character building. Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, you, sir, know that. We are at the pointy end of the political process. I will reflect on the fact that we are the soft underbelly of politics. When people want to bring about change or press a case, it is always the marginal seat members that they go after. I will pay tribute to the marginal seat members. There should be, as a matter of course, a marginal seat members' hall of fame in this building, and those who are in safe seats should pay appropriate homage at least weekly!
Before getting into that, I want to reflect on the national scene. I came into this place not knowing how long I would have the great honour and privilege to be here. I knew that in a marginal seat the big risk was, having worked so hard to be elected, being a 'oncer'. You never wanted to be a oncer. Oncers are viewed in the political record as an aberration. So, once you are there, you work your tail off. You work hard and you try to make every moment worthwhile. You try to do useful things for the air you suck in because you know that the rare privilege of being a part of this chamber may be all too brief and there are all too few in our nation's history who have had this great honour and opportunity.
Not to waste the opportunity, I thought I would set about trying to do things. You might have picked up recently—in fact, yesterday—that some of that work has borne fruit. It has taken an awful lot of skin off me—it is not immediately apparent by my svelteness!—to make the case for competition law reform in this country. I cannot begin to tell you what a great thrill it was to see the Turnbull government embrace some of the key reforms that I have worked so hard for.
Whatever happens, you want to make a difference, and that has been a legacy that I will hold on to, but it is not the only thing that we have been able to achieve. We made our election commitment to a root-and-branch competition review in 2010. We were ridiculed for even daring to open the box of competition laws. I think the Labor line was that the laws were 'perfectly adequate'—that was the term used, if I recall. We knew that was not the case, but we knew it would be a battle. I start with this observation because that shows you why you need the three P's that have guided my public life: passion, positivity and an awful lot of persistence. You have to stay the course because nothing comes easy in this place. To know that this section 46 reform is on its way is fantastic. Collective bargaining and boycott reforms; reform of the cartel provisions; renovating the infrastructure access regime—these are all parts of a change in the competitive ecosystem that will be great for consumers, great for efficient businesses big and small, and great for our prospects as a nation.
Who can remember the small business budget package? Didn't that go well? We established $5½ billion of support for those enterprising men and women—a real game changer, not only for our economy but as a statement from this parliament to those people who mortgage their houses and, some tell me, their firstborn children to get finance to have an opportunity to create livelihoods for themselves and others. What a statement that was in our parliament that their enterprise matters and is valued and respected.
The grocery code reforms—there seems to be a pattern here. It seems to be me versus some of the biggest businesses in the country. There we got a result as well with the grocery code of conduct. There were the franchising reforms, the unfair contract terms protections, the Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, the employee share scheme reforms that we got through and the crowdsourced equity funding framework. All of this meant, as I said in my National Press Club speech, that small business is the new black. Everyone wants to wear it and be a part of it and get engaged. Whatever happens in my time, I hope in this parliament we never pass a day without respecting and celebrating those enterprising men and women—or, as I say, doing all we can to energise enterprise.
Those reforms came about through a role in cabinet, a great honour and privilege that I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed. But, in earlier days, you might recall, before the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd governments, there was the Howard government. What a great government that was. What a transformational government. What a time. It was almost a renaissance of opportunity and belief in ourselves as a nation and a people. There were more small business owners than union members. There were people prepared to say, 'You know, I'm going to have a go,' and make a go of it.
It was a great time and I was really honoured to be not a cabinet minister but a minister and a parliamentary secretary in that administration, working hard every day for our veterans. I will let you in on a bit of a secret. When the Prime Minister rang me and said, 'Look, Bruce, we'd like you to be a minister'—until recently I always said, 'Yes, Prime Minister,' but we will reflect on that later—I said, 'I'd like to do veterans affairs.' It is an incredibly challenging area. The community loves our veterans, the veterans understand that and we owe a particular debt and gratitude for their service. I wanted to serve in veterans affairs because I grew up in an era when a lot of my mates were the sons and daughters of Vietnam War veterans. I recalled my grandfather never coming back the same person from serving in Lae in Papua New Guinea, with the impact that had on his family, and on our family—it cascaded through. I thought, 'What I'd like to do is what I hope a government would do for my family,' and that is to be there when things are going well and to act when things are not—to secure the gold card and the white card and honour and fulfil our commitment to the reformation in veterans' health care I oversaw. We reformed the Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service, to bring the family more into the frame, knowing that serving our nation in our military is a team and family effort. All are impacted. The need to move every few years, with the particular stressors of that, is something we have to respect. To learn that seven months after I was born something called the Battle of Long Tan happened and to think we had not quite done the right thing to be able to lead the 40-year commemoration of that—
As my friend and colleague Broughy says, this year we are approaching 50 years since then. There were still Vietnam veterans in the soils in Vietnam whom we had not found. We were alongside the diggers who fought in Operation Hump—they could tell me the day they were there working with, I think, the 457th airborne. I cannot quite recall, but it was an American contingent. One of our great, courageous Vietnam soldiers died that day and it was so hot that we could not recover his remains. As a nation that wanted to do the right things, we could not give the family somewhere to grieve and to talk to their dad or relative. We did not know where they were. We said, 'We're going to open that box.' I was not even born when some of those men lost their lives, but I knew what I would want if it was my family member, and that was do everything I could to find their remains. And do you know what? We did. We found them all and we brought them home. Operation Aussies Home and the leadership there—what a great piece of work, but it took some courage at a government level to say, 'We're not quite sure what's going on here, but let's have a red-hot go at it.' We had Australian tourists looking very much like they had military haircuts doing things in Vietnam, just asking questions and quietly going about their business. What a moment is was to be there at Richmond Air Force base when the remains came back. What a moment it was to be on the tarmac in Vietnam, with the military leadership of Vietnam, knowing that we were combatants way back then but were collaborators today. To see the dignity and respect for our fallen—what a moment. You can do that stuff as a minister. That is why being a minister is a great opportunity and a great honour.
HMAS Sydneywhere was it? No-one knew. We knew we had to find it. Six hundred and forty five men lost their lives on that ship and no-one knew where it was. I thought, 'That's not good enough. Let's find it.' We put in train those changes and brought about the very discovery that brought peace and comfort to the families whose loved ones had given their all for our country, and all of it with the great support of Prime Minister Howard.
Western Front commemorations are pretty big now. They were very informal, but, as minister, I changed that. We focused on the Australian experience on the Western Front, got an interpretive centre going and got Defence recruitment and retention right. Through-life care is a concept we know for our air frames and our tanks and our ships. We need through-life care for our people.
I got some firsthand insights about that while working alongside Defence long before I was a minister, but I also learned that the correlation and collaboration between Defence and industry was key through the white paper, which was some of my work, that profiled the Defence family as being a key part of the team. I have great admiration for the defence forces, both the people who are serving and those before them.
I was the face of overseas tragedy for a while, which was not quite what I had anticipated. After driving home one Boxing Day my phone started going off. I was Alexander Downer's parliamentary secretary; I looked after consular operations. Something big had happened in the Indian Ocean—something really big. I did not know the extent of the tragedy that was unfolding, what it looked like, but I knew that we could help, and to carry so much of the response of our nation to that tragedy for our region was an extraordinary honour and privilege for me. I had about 32 media interviews a day. Alexander said, 'You can do all of them unless it's a BBC domestic, because some of my mates might be listening'! They were long, hard and demanding days but they were nothing like the days that our military personnel and Foreign Affairs people faced.
We pinched the Prime Minister's jet to fly to Banda Aceh, which was the scene of a civil war at that time. Just to land and have no-one shoot at us was an achievement to begin with. We picked up Pak Untoro, an incredible, trusted Indonesian administrator, knowing that we had to do all we could to guard against corruption. We saw our Defence personnel going into the Ulee Lheu port, which did not exist because the tectonic plates had disappeared; we saw them go into the hospital up there and lift newborns' bodies off the wall—and you wonder why I think we have to look after those people.
We did our very best as a nation to help look after those who needed our help. We went further towards achieving one of the greatest things in our lifetime, which is the alleviation of poverty in our region. Hundreds of millions of people are being lifted out of poverty in our time, on our watch and with our help. I even engaged Tony Jones, and paid him—sorry about that! Some of my colleagues thought that was a bad idea. As we worked through the aid white paper process and had public consultations, I double-teamed with Tony. Those consultations were tough, but explaining to some of my colleagues why I had picked Tony was tougher. We focused on economic opportunity in our region; that was our point. When Millennium Development Goals were being discussed, that was crucial. But the simple message I took to the floor of the UN in New York was that there is no antidote to poverty as durable and sustainable as economic growth. Our region was the story that gave that message meaning and life and persuasion. To have that run through the halls of the aid community was an interesting conversation.
There have been many highlights. Working in the Trade portfolio, they were trying to get the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations working, trying to revitalise the agreement with New Zealand—we are supposed to be one economy but, gee, it needed some work to streamline that; getting discussions going about trade opportunities in the gulf, knowing so many Australian companies were doing terrific work there; and working alongside our AusAID people.
Among the highlights as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration, Indigenous and Multicultural Affairs was being able to work alongside great ministers, and making sure migration agents and others were not ripping off hopeful and often desperate people. It was countless requests for ministerial interventions coming my way before going to Minister Vanstone on a trolley. It was seeing the humanitarian frame, inspired by this man as well, the man seated behind me in the chamber, a great humanitarian ridiculed unfairly. Philip Ruddock, I salute you; you are a very honourable person. It was knowing that there is a story of refugees and hardship that no-one hears about and that we as a bighearted nation stand up for them. They might not be on the front of the newspaper, but there are refugees who cannot leave a camp because they will lose their lives. Contrast that with the idea of paying a people smuggler when you feel like it, of moving freely whenever you choose and coming in and out of countries with no problem. Contrast that with the hardship of the people we do not hear about. I dedicated my work to them.
Another highlight is working with the Indigenous affairs community and learned much from Mal Brough, 'Broughy', who is also in the chamber. He is my cultural adviser. He called me 'goona'. I will not say what it means in his language. He was 'neejet' to me, and I will not say what that means either. It was understanding the role sport can play in the Indigenous community, seeing the appetite and hunger for economic opportunities, understanding that the greatest form of self-determination for Indigenous people, as they described it to me, was the chance for their own livelihoods and to make their own decisions. This was some of that work.
In multicultural affairs it was an interesting time. We saw in other countries that people's values and principles, which had helped build that country and make it great and a magnet for people from around the world, were being challenged or set aside in these very countries, which had relied on those foundations to make them so appealing. I remember proposing the concept of 'in our hands'. I put forward the simple thesis that if we are to maintain the great appeal of our country we should not be shy about what has made it great. We need to acknowledge the values and principles, the social norms, the respect, the freedoms, the pluralism—the fact that we have won life's lottery because we are Australians. It has not just happened by chance. There have been foundations and principles that have helped build that. I argued we should have a little thing going around the country, a sort of glorified sewing experience where we would have four frames. In one frame would be: 'We will put our heart into this country.' Another one would say: 'We share democratic beliefs here.' The third one would be 'the rights and liberties I respect'—we know that is the citizenship pledge. The last frame of that four-cornered square would be about respecting our laws: 'We will uphold and obey them.' The point was that you could bring your thread from wherever you had come. Whatever its colour, its creed, its cultural orientation or its ambitions for the future, you could bring that thread and you could either let it dangle outside the frame—and good luck to you—or you could add it to the fabric that we all provide, and you would be strengthened and nourished and supported by it, just as we would be. I thought we needed to do that and I still believe that to be the case.
Speaking of the honour of working with great ministers, there were also great prime ministers. Being in the cabinet of the Abbott government was an extraordinary honour and thrill, and I loved every minute of it. I apologise to my colleagues who thought I went too hard on the things I believed in, but, down my way, you go hard or you go home. The encouragement of Prime Minister Howard—he was designated as my mentor; I just liked talking to him—the wisdom, the insights and the personal feng shui—beautiful.
I remember the Prince and Princess of Denmark coming to our area, and Prime Minister Howard, with a smile on his face, said: 'This is Bruce Billson. He looks after tragedy when it happens overseas for our country.' I thought I can match you with that, and I went up to Prince Frederik and I said, 'Gee, we've got a lot in common.' He goes, 'Why is that?' And I said, 'Gee, we've both married well, haven't we?' It was not quite an awkward diplomatic moment, but Prime Minister Howard enjoyed it.
I have enjoyed a terrific working relationship with Prime Minister Turnbull. I sat beside Malcolm in the cabinet room. We used to joke that one of our predecessors sat in the same seat and they were invited to leave, and I facetiously said, 'I think I'm in the ejector seat.' It showed a little too much perspicacity, didn't it! Never mind.
Brendan Nelson: what a tough gig! I mean, who remembers the challenge when you lose an election? It is gut-wrenching. You put every ounce of your being into that, and, if the result doesn't turn out your way, it is one thing to lose the election but it is another thing to know that the whole opportunity to bring about change is gone. There are two things that happen in politics—you are either explaining or complaining—and it depends on what side of the place you are on. But no matter what the worst day in public life looks like in government it beats the hell out of the best day in opposition, because you can do things. To lose that opportunity was absolutely gut-wrenching.
But I have enjoyed the support of our leaders—Brendan, when he had me as shadow cabinet minister for communications and IT in the digital economy. Malcolm invited me to spend more time on something I deeply believe in, and that is that our cities can make a better contribution to our growth and our economic prospects. It led me into a parliamentary inquiry about that. And that is why this place is important. As the chair of a committee, you can start ideas moving. I instigated the sustainable cities 2020 inquiry, and now it is still referred to, about what we can do to get our cities run well. Colleagues from all sides of this parliament were full and generous in their contribution, and that is when the parliament is at its best. The NDIS committee that I chair now does crucial work, but again you see good will in every bit of that work—a genuine desire to do good. That is why I respect all members in this chamber and the Senate, whatever brand they carry. This is not a business for the faint-hearted, and to throw yourself into it, like all of us do, is quite special.
The parliament is an interesting place. I was only ever thrown out once in 20 years, because I thought, 'Can I explain my behaviour to my kids?' That was my benchmark. I was unfairly warned by Speaker Neil Andrew. I made the mistake of pointing out that he had got me confused with one of my colleagues, who was behaving like a peanut. He did not like me pointing that out, and he bounced me. I apologise to my electorate for being absent for an hour when I could have been in here making a contribution.
Con Sciacca is an interesting character. He and I double teamed; it was almost like a Starsky and Hutch moment, with better fitting clothes. We split a bill in the parliament. I think—and the clerks might correct me—that it is the only time in this parliament's history that we have been able to successfully split a bill and see it pass through this chamber. There was a half-convincing nod from the table there. It was on the human cloning and embryo stem cell research bill—a matter of great conscience. But how do you find a single conscience about two fundamentally different issues? I was dead against human cloning, but I wanted to see the possibilities from embryonic stem cell research. So what do I do? Do I vote against the whole bill, even though I like half of it? Or do I vote for the whole thing, when I find part of it abhorrent? We hatched a plan, and I said to Con, 'Leave it with me. I will sort this out.' This is before the term 'fixer' became popular. That was the effort. I said, 'I think I can split these bills like a succulent avocado, deal with each half discretely and then we can put it back together again and send it over to the other place.'
The nut stayed because we needed a core to hang it together, and there were not some of those Avon things that keep them—not Avon. You know, those longer life things that keep your avocado green?
An honourable member: Tupperware.
Tupperware—thank you, sir. It worked. It was the only time it has happened in this place, and I am thrilled that I was able to pull this off.
This is an arena, though, for political debate and differing policy ideas. It is a clearing house of people's thoughts about the future. It is a forum of accountability, but it is a hard place. That is why I admire everyone who enters into this place and all those who aspire to be here. The world is run by people who turn up. If you turn up, you can have an influence. If you turn up, someone can hear your thoughts. You might be able to shape things. Coming here is turning up big time—the work to get here is arduous and demanding, but it is incredibly rewarding.
But it does not happen on its own. The clerks, the Comcar team, the parliamentary officials, the service providers, the hundreds of political staff around here, the attendants and the security people—they are all great. They are people, and people make politics and the parliamentary democracy work. I say, 'Thank you,' for 20 years of great courtesy and constructive engagement over that journey.
I am surrounded by many friends. These are the visible faces of politics, colleagues and combatants, but all deserving respect, right across the chamber, because they are here, and that is something we should never forget. We have a shared purpose, the Libs and the Nats—that is our coalition. We think parties bring people together with shared ideas and values and views about what is good for the country. I accept others have different ideas about what is good for the country, but they all want good for our nation. I admire that courage.
I particularly want to acknowledge the class of '96. What a great bunch of humans they were. Joel wants me to mention him. He stopped me in the corridor before and he said, 'Hey, Billy, whatever you do, make sure you mention me.' It is done. Phil Barresi, Larry Anthony, Broughy, Teresa Gambaro, Russell, in his multiple comings, and Joe Hockey—they are great people and they are mates for life. More mates have come along: Sussan Ley, Craig Laundy—there are just too many. I am in trouble if I mention too many, but there is you, Mr Speaker. We did have a plot that your sons would marry my daughters—and I think you pointed out that I needed to be in a safer seat, though.
Scott Ryan, my twin brother—accused of being my twin—is 10 years younger than me, and that says a lot about his exercise regime. Mitch Fifield, Fiona Scott, Zed, Andrew Hastie—a good recent mate—Craig Kelly and Craig Laundy are just some, but everyone here is just lovely. My electoral neighbours are Peter Reith and Greg Hunt; we have to work together. It was great working together with Peter and Greg, but I will let you in on a bit of a story. To the north of me is pure tiger territory for the Libs. It is Bolshevik central from wall to wall, but I have enjoyed working with the late Greg Wilton. He came in with us, and we felt his pain.
Ann Corcoran and Anthony Byrne—I was going to mention Mark Dreyfus, but he is never there. Down in my part of the world, in the Riviera, we love tourists—even if they are the local member. It is a bit unkind. I enjoy working with Mark, but he is busy. Andrew Southcott—in 2010 we were both having yet another near death experience, electorally. I thought I was about 1,500 votes in front and someone put a 500 pile in the wrong one! You have to find a personal feng shui when you go from 1,500 up to just 500 up and you slip into the 'he's gone' column. It was not that way, but I shared that experience.
The media loves it, and I want to thank the media. I apologise for being completely unhelpful about off-the-record comments. It has annoyed many of them and it has probably hampered my opportunity to get column centimetres or nice things said about me by James Jeffrey. But the media are crucial; they are a voice and a medium through which what goes on in here goes out into the broader public. They are great to work with. Some are great athletes, many are good friends, and I will miss many of them.
But all politics is local. Tip O'Neill said that, and I think that is right, and that is why I got involved. I love the local scene and getting out and about, hearing people's concerns and understanding what their ambitions were and how we might be able to help. And we did help: Scoresby Freeway. I was honoured to be called Mr Scoresby by John Howard. I hope it was a term of endearment, but I do not think so. To be able to have any matter before the party room and then make it about Scoresby, I found that quite agile—if I could use a popular term! But he thought 'How could Billson make a bill about thin capitalisation at all relevant to a crucial piece of infrastructure?' I could do that, and even an administrative change and the tidying up of the law—there was never a missed opportunity! And we got there, and what a transformation that has made to our region. There was Peninsula Link and arguing for that crucial piece of infrastructure and being told by Premier Brumby that I knew nothing about the area and that no-one would ever use it. Now I am criticised that it is only four lanes and not six! Then saving the Monash University Peninsular campus and bringing occupational therapy, speech pathology and physiotherapy. It is still there now as a beacon to our local people that higher education is an opportunity that is there for them when they can make it their own. Yet our post-secondary education rates are still no better than Gippsland. Work to be done.
Then: Cube 37, the youth hub in Mornington; the renovations for the McClelland Sculpture Park & Gallery; the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery; and the new schools' policy and seeing great educational institutions like Flinders Christian Community College set up in my electorate and Bayside Christian College giving great education and guidance for young people. Arguing for years that we needed an Australian technical college, getting that commitment and then finding we lost the election. Then having to convince Labor that their idea of sprinkling tech fairy dust for a new oven or a new lift was never going to work, and then bringing it together in a consolidated, dedicated building. That is what Labor did, and I commend them for adjusting their strategy. I can claim that as the nearest and neatest correct outcome I was working for.
Also commemorating of our fallen at Frankston with a new memorial and the Mornington Memorial Park. I thought I would be the subject of an Auditor-General inquiry about that. Please do not tell anybody—lean in a bit because it is a secret—but I think I got about eight grants for that one site, commemorating all of the conflicts that our people have served in. Getting Ramsar listing for the Seaford Wetlands and coastal regeneration and being able to help co-author the Natural Heritage Trust policy before the 1996 election to say that there is a risk that our best environmental asset, our coastline, will be damaged by its pure popularity, and putting policy and programs in place to fix that. Then there is the Langwarrin Flora and Fauna Reserve and letting people know that that is where our veterans came back to after fighting in the First World War because we needed to make sure that they had not brought back viruses. The basketball court at Mornington Secondary College; the stadium expansion at Frankston; the ring road at Seaford village, to stop people risking wiping themselves out just to visit that great coastal area—that ring road and the alfresco it has made possible; and the Mornington Rose Gardens. There are plenty more that I could go on with. It has been a busy time, and there has been much to do.
There is the mature-age employment advantage and telling people—and I did not realise this at the time—that once you reach 45 it is not over. I thought I had a few years to work on that, but I turned 50 on Australia Day and I certainly hope it is not over. There is job journey and talking to young people, and the help of Mark Skaife who said: 'I am a mechanic, but look what else I have done with my life. But this vocational qualification was a great platform.' To bring The Fauves and others down to talk to our young people about the stepping stones of a career, the job journey, where it starts and how you cannot stop. You have to learn for life. You have to keep expanding and renewing and remaking yourself. Getting Telstra off its tail—you know what that is like, Mr Speaker—in the outer metropolitan area and finally getting metro calls for our area and dedicated countrywide activities. It was all important, but nothing was more important than what it said to our young people.
I went to school at Monterey. You know when they have those accounts of the schools people went to and there is all that scoffing about how they went to exclusive schools? Well, I have never seen a column in that analysis that said, 'Public schools designated as disadvantaged'. That's where I want to school. I went there and I learnt so much, and I kept going back
I was school council president for one simple reason: to say to the young people of Australia, and my electorate particularly, 'Your postcode doesn't determine your potential. You can learn as well as anybody. You can achieve great things. You can fulfil your ambitions. Have ambitions and aspirations and draw in those who can help you on that journey.' That happened to me the other day at a fate at Monterey. A grandparent came up to me and said, 'Hey, Bruce, I hear you're going. We're sad about that. But you've taught our granddaughter that she can do anything, even if it's at a school that never ranks as superspunky or super well-off.'
It has been a long journey from the streets of Seaford, The Pines and Frankston to this place. I said that in my maiden speech. I made the point that I want to let others from my community know it is a road they too can travel. I hope I have done that. In my maiden speech I talked about how crucial small and microbusinesses are to our community. It is not by chance that I aimed to be, was and loved being evangelical for enterprising men and women, because that is our economy and that is where those livelihood opportunities come from.
But it did not happen just because that was something I wanted to do. The crew who have helped me along the way are remarkable. My dear mate, Greg Sugars—never has one person suffered so much in the political world! He is my campaign manager, confidant and inspiration and he is the guy who rings my wife when we are feeling like I have not been home for a long time. I want to thank: Bill Beaglelhole, electorate chairman and campaign manager; Robert and Linda Hicks; Harry and Margaret Dean; John Howard—there is a local version!; the late Geoff Hollings; Bob Garnett; Peter Rawlings; and Colin and Dawn Fisher. There are countless people. I had better stop there because I know that, if I go through a much longer list, I will forget people. I apologise for that, but I only found out that this was my opportunity a few hours ago and you can see that my preparation is incomplete.
There have been friends exploited. I want to thank John Catto-Smith, Stephen Sherack, David Ritter, Chris Warwick and the many mates who got involved in politics just because I was. I thank my family, who were devoted and continue to be. I thank my brother, who was here when I made my maiden speech and probably to this day still cannot work out why I am involved in politics. He is a company doctor—a very gifted chief financial officer. The business he helped run was owned by some Americans and they got very excited about this rumour that the CFO had a brother in 'congress'. He did not quite know what to make of that, so he told them I was his cousin! I thank my parents, who have wondered what brought me here. I think it was just prior to the 1998 election that they went to a public meeting and it was not pretty. It frightened them. It was politics in the raw in a marginal seat. It is probably inappropriate of me to thank the CFMEU for their great interest in my electorate over many years! It was not nice. My parents never came to another political event, but they wished me well every day. I thank my sweetheart, Kate. She so wanted to be here today but, only knowing a couple of hours ago that I would be doing this valedictory, there was nothing we could do to get her here. This letter is from her. She has been a superstar.
I thank my son, Alex. He was born into politics and knows nothing else. I am a bit worried; he seems to love it! He gives me commentary. He has been on the phone texting me while I am here. I am so proud of him. I hope he finds a pathway of great satisfaction in his life. I thank my oldest daughter Zoe. She is wired with intravenous chamomile tea—so chilled. Something spectacular will happen and she will come up to me and say, 'Good one, Dad.' On occasions when I am being smacked around in the media with headlines that you hope your kids will never see, she will say, 'It's okay, Dad.' I love the fact that she was always there for me. My microhumans are now not micro: Maddie is eight and Bella is six. Maddie loved Harry Jenkins. She will walk around the house saying, 'Order!' What kind of abuse of a child is that! She knew the standing orders before she knew some poems that kids are supposed to know. She is so proud that daddy goes to work every day trying to help other people. She loves that. She was a bit sad when I was no longer a minister. I thank her for her support and saying, It'll be okay. You've got more to give, Dad.' I am still the member for Dunkley, I told her. She said, 'Well, that's great, because we want you to do that forever.'
Bella, my six-year-old, has been here before. She is far too wise for her age. She just goes: 'So have you still got a job? Who's going to bring the dollars in, Daddy?' She got quite upset because she thought I was unemployed. Perhaps that is a premonition; I hope not. But I said to her, 'Would you actually like Daddy to be able to take you to school some days?' All was good after that, and that shows you the kind of life we lead.
I have had great staff. Some are here in the audience today. But, at the short notice, many who would love to be here cannot be here. Sandra Darby, Edmond Carew, Noelene Warwick, Mark Oswald, Justin Johnson, Jeremy Johnson—we went through a twins phase for a while—Susan Westlake, Melody Rewokowski, Raeleigh Speedie, Reece Turner, Kristy Spena, Mary Aldred, Hayley Najim, Tim Smith, Mary-Jo Reumer, Pam Roberts, Tom Hudson, Nathan Hersey, Melissa Ritter, Mason Sugars, Katie Wilkie, Chantal D'Argaville have all been absolute powers of strength, engagement and empathy in my electorate office. No-one rings your electorate office because they are happy. We are often the last, last line when people are frustrated. I said to them: 'Just come to work everyday, KYSOS—knock your socks off service. Let's see if we can achieve that.'
On my ministerial and executive career, I want to thank Vincent Sheehy—at his wedding, his mother comforted me and said, 'Thank you for being Vincent's longest relationship.' Thankfully, his wife has surpassed that. But: Vincent Sheehy, Cameron Hill, Sally Branson, Phil Connole, Kane Silom, Karen Browne, Judith Donnelly, Michael Xanthis, Shane Fairlie, James Sampson, Mary Aldred, Michael Keating, Kristie Lavery, Candice Lester, Daniel McCracken-Hewson, Ineke Redmond, Andy McClure, Cameron Hooke, Brice Pacey, Stefanee Lovett, Nanette Rogers, Philip Citowicki, Susan Warren, Emily Barnuevo, Anna Zeltzer, Josh Toohey, John Polack and Sarah Bland have been great in a very heavy, burdened, responsibility-laden office.
Hector Thompson, a brilliant man from Treasury, came over when I was a Treasury cabinet minister two days in and I was not quite sure what was going on. The DLOs, knitting the departments and the political wing together: Dan Heldon, who has never seen a smorgasbord he has not loved, Mary-Anne Mellor, Julie Bolton, David Steer, John Matheson, Rebecca Brooke, Nathan Barker, Wayne Fogarty and Bernice Vanguardia. They have been great.
The aides-de-camp that I got to work with: Lucy Casey and Wendy Jeffery. They put in so much, but there is one person who put in an awful lot—that is, my father-in-law. Arthur Ranken is totemic in his love of the Liberal Party. When I stood for preselection, there was a field of 15. He was one of them. My now father-in-law tried to knock me off back then! I got even. I married his daughter. He did live vicariously through me in his political life, but if ever you came to the Riviera of Melbourne, my electorate, in an election campaign, there is nowhere you could look where there was not my face. The director of visual merchandising—he was spectacular.
We still have work ahead of us. We need to prepare our young people for this delicious world of opportunity that is out there. But let us be frank: despite spending more on education, we are seeing our comparative academic performance falling behind other countries. We need to do something about that. But we also need to face up to the fact that not all people are wired to be academically gifted. But we have to understand they have other gifts, other great talents, other ways of thinking and of carving out a meaningful life for themselves and being able to make some of those delicious opportunities their own. But when a time is so dynamic and ambiguous as it is now, it can be hard for some people to flourish in that environment. We need to provide the pathways and the support and a purpose for those young people. I think this is a real challenge for us, because brilliant, agile, intellectually adept people will thrive in this environment. What if you are not wired that way? Surely, we can help renew and renourish their hopes, ambitions and capacity for the future. We have to do this.
Colleagues, we risk being the first generation to fail the great promise of this country, and that is that the next generation will have it better than us. We risk not being able to renew that promise. National income growth of 2.3 per cent a year for decades is not something that will land in our lap. We really need to work hard at that. We need to make our economy hum and support all of our people, whatever their age, whatever their calling, to be their best selves and to create the wealth and opportunity to renourish that great promise of our country.
I talked about that when I made my maiden speech. I said that the challenges facing Dunkley are only as big as the opportunities before us. That is still the case today, but it is our job to make those opportunities real and in reach for everybody, not just those that happen to have a cognitive capacity or an outlook on life that makes them ready and ripe to excel in this dynamic, ambiguous time that we live in.
I try to make every day worthwhile for the air I have sucked in. I think I have done that. I look to Chris Crewther, a gifted young individual—a little bit older than me when I started—to carry that forward. He is a great talent, and I hope we will work to see him succeed.
In closing, I just want to say I have loved these days. To my family, I will be home soon.
I rise to speak to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (Interest Charge) Bill 2016. I welcome this piece of legislation, and I thank the minister for the incredible work that he has done in this bill and the cost savings that it will provide.
As this is one of my last opportunities to speak in this House, I would like to take the time to reflect on my 18 years in federal parliament. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve as the member for Brisbane over the past six years and also as the member for Petrie from 1996 to 2007. Over the last 18 years, I have had the privilege of serving under three Liberal prime ministers: John Howard, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull. Each of them has provided me with support and encouragement, and I thank them all.
It is very special to me that I am only one of a handful of people who has had the immense privilege of representing two electorates in this place. After being defeated at the 2007 federal election with so many of my dear friends, I returned to the world of small business for a short time before making the bold decision to run for the LNP in the seat of Brisbane, where my family had lived all their lives.
We had had a fish and chip shop at Petrie Terrace that grew—and I am so incredibly proud of my family—to be the largest wholesaler, exporter and retailer, and one of the most famous seafood restaurants, in our state. I was particularly proud when my family became the official supplier of seafood at the Commonwealth Games. My family had achieved many firsts. We had the first IGA supermarket at New Farm. The recent reforms of section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 have made me, indeed, a very happy person over the last few days. I thank the minister who is sitting beside me for the incredible work that she has done. My family worked hard and they contributed to the community of Brisbane. I grew up in Brisbane, and I went to school in Brisbane. I love Brisbane! I am an honorary ambassador for Brisbane. It was one of my proudest moments when the Lord Mayor made me honorary ambassador.
We wrested the seat from Labor after 30 years. The people of Brisbane have sent only two Liberals to represent them in Canberra in 115 years—me and Peter Johnson. I am proud to be the first woman to have ever represented this beautiful electorate in this place and the first woman of Italian origin to enter the federal parliament. From the bottom of my heart, I thank the people of Brisbane for their support over the last six years. It has been an absolute honour and a privilege to represent such a growing, diverse and vibrant place and, I think, the most innovative city in Australia in this federal parliament. I can honestly say that, growing up and not speaking English at home, I would never have imagined that I would have made it to the federal parliament of this great country.
My parents taught me the values of hard work and integrity. They said it was only through hard work that success would come along. I know I was not a perfect child. I became a fugitive when I was three; I ran away from the Petrie Terrace kindergarten regularly, and the local police would bring me back to the fish shop. We can laugh about it now, but I do not think my parents found it very funny at the time. I worked from the age of nine in my parents' corner store, where I would spruik the specials—I will always remember the No. 9 Steggles frozen chickens for the rest of my life. So I blame my parents for my career in politics because they gave me a microphone at such a very young age.
I thank my family immensely for the opportunities that they gave me through my education. I thank the Sisters of Mercy; they instilled in me a great sense of social justice. My parents sent me to Holy Spirit School and, later, the leading Catholic girls school in Brisbane—All Hallows' School. The sense of social justice that the Sisters of Mercy instilled in me was a foundation for what would in the future become my political career.
My entry into politics was not a conventional one by any means. I was speaking at Lynette Palmen AM's Women's Network Australia. I had entered in a state-wide public speaking competition the year before and I did not do very well. In fact, I did not get a place. I was very dejected. Lynette encouraged me to enter again. So, the following year, not only did I win the Queensland award in the public speaking competition but I also took out the People's Choice Award. But little did I know that sitting in that audience on that particular day was the then Chairman of the Women's Council of the Liberal Party, the late Cassie Solomon. She was sitting in that audience and she tried everything she could to recruit me. I was a businesswoman. She asked me to join the party, and later I was asked by the Liberal Party to run in the federal seat of Petrie. Terry Barlow was then the Regional Chairman of the Petrie Federal Divisional Council and he urged me to run for the seat. I was a bit naive. I did not really understand all this political culture stuff. I want to thank Loris Barlow, his wife, and Bill Richardson, Max Mathers and Shirley Lehman, who had such faith in me then.
I can honestly say that the hardest bit was telling my father that I was going into politics . My father had a restaurant that was apolitical and he had been apolitical. Members of the trade union movement, the Labor Party, the National Party and the Liberal Party would go into my family's restaurant. So the hardest thing was telling him. I had been previously approached by the Liberal Party to run in a state seat and I had declined that offer; however, I was being given an opportunity to run for a federal seat, and federal politics was too alluring. It was not an easy feat. I had a very worthy opponent in Labor's Special Minister of State at the time, Gary Johns . I was a sole parent with two children and at the time I was working three part - time jobs.
I bravely walked into my father's restaurant office t o tell him that I would be running for preselection two nights later. My father , in his typically protective manner , told me that politics was a dirty business and that no daughter of his was going into politics and that he would not be supporting me. It did not quite go the way I thought it would. So I told him that, w ith or without his support , I was determined to run and win the seat for the Liberal Party and to see the end of the Keating Labor g overnment and the election of John Howard as Prime Minister. John Howard was then , as he is today , a political inspiration to me. He is one of the finest people I have ever met, if not the finest . I thank him for his counsel and I sin cerely thank him for his friendship for more than two decades.
F ollowing my successful preselection, I then began an 18 - month - long campaign . A fter a few months of my father not talking to me, I knew I had won him over when he started to give me advice on what to put in my speeches. I went on to win the seat of Petrie for the Liberal Party in 1996 . A historic group of women came into that party at that time. I was really proud. I am sitting here with some of those women. Sharman Stone came in at that time. I am looking around; there are not many of us left. Entschie came in—there are a lot of 96ers in Brisbane.
Mr Entsch interjecting —
But you are not a woman, Entschie. I am just doing the woman thing now.
My family were so incredibly proud of me , and my father's friends said that my father had grown six inches taller the night of the election with his pride for me. I distinctly remember my first day on the job. I had no idea what to do. I walked into this empty office that had a few paperclips left in a drawer. There was no documentation—there was nothing. Talk about a baptism of fire: on the first day, the Commonwealth Bank had shut down and I had 250 angry constituents at a meeting at Scarborough to attend . Then that night I had to open up a caf e in Redcliffe. I went to get out to my car—I could not believe it; I thought it was like something out of a movie—and there were two guys having a punch- up beside my car . I was frozen with fear. I did not know whether to get out, as I would be part of the altercation. Anyway, the police soon arrived and chased them down the street, and order was restored.
I was starting to have doubts about this whole politic al thing and wondered what I h ad got myself into. So I was absolutely delighted to see the current m ember for Petrie , Luke Howarth , win the seat for the LNP at the 2013 election. I learnt very quickly and I had some wonderful staff and supporters and friends along the way . I en joyed representing th is beautiful seat . It is tough. I have the utmost regard for people on both sides of the House who hold marginal seats. It takes a certain type of person to hold a marginal seat and to look after their constituents. I doorknocked the business community and made sure that I had regular listening posts. I was so proud to be re-elected in that very difficult election in 1998 and, again, in 2001 and 2004.
Following my re-election in 2004, I received one of the best phone calls that you could ever get. It is when the Prime Minister rings you and asks you to serve in the Liberal ministry. I got that call from John Howard. I was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence and later the Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs and the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. I have been absolutely honoured and delighted to have worked with some of Australia's finest Defence men and women. The work that they do in protecting Australia's national interests abroad and close to home is so important, and I salute them. I will always be one of their loyal advocates.
I had the pleasure of working with the then Minister for Defence, the Hon. Robert Hill, at a historic time for Defence, and I am delighted to be leaving with the current Minister for Defence, Marise Payne, handing down a significant white paper. It was not an easy portfolio. I used to say that Senator Robert Hill had all the sexy things—the Tiger helicopters and all that stuff—and I had the rest. The rest was IT, legal, Defence housing, reserves, infrastructure. I used to be woken up at 5 am in the morning by the ABC whenever it was decided that a piece of Defence land or a Defence base had to be sold. It absolutely drove me insane, so I put in place an effective Defence property register.
I am very proud that I was able to use my business skills. All the work that I had done in the food and restaurant business came in very handy. I was able to work on providing food and provisions for our Defence men and women and making sure that they had the right type of food in the mess. I am very proud of all of my defence work, particularly in ensuring that reserve policy looked after Defence men and women, particularly in the health area. I fought very, very hard to ensure that health benefits were extended to them. I also worked hard to ensure that the cadets had everything that they needed, including bringing in a new cadet system—CadetNet.
When I served in the Howard ministry I was able to use all of those skills and make some very prudent decisions on behalf of the Commonwealth that allowed Peter Costello to use some of that money in other portfolio areas. I also learnt pretty quickly that everyone is very protective of Defence land, particularly if they had been walking their dog there for the last 20 years. Even if it was a disused military base, no-one wanted to part with it.
I was proud of the work that I did in many other areas, particularly in international development, settlement services and foreign aid. I enjoyed, as I said, working on the business side of Defence, particularly Defence Industries. We have an incredible opportunity right now to work with some of the most innovative and dynamic people in this area to enhance our domestic and export industry. I want to thank the many NGOs that I have met in this place. Some of them do the most incredible work in the Indo-Pacific area. I also had the incredible privilege of working with two foreign ministers—the Hon. Alexander Downer and the Hon. Julie Bishop. I was really pleased to play a significant role in the work that we did as a government in empowering women and alleviating poverty—and not just the incredible work that was done on this side of the House but the work that many members on the opposite side have done with us to make sure that we alleviate poverty.
I particularly enjoyed working to deliver the Smart Traveller program. It was such a complicated program to get onto and very user unfriendly. So we did a lot of research and found out why people travelled to exotic destinations. One of the things that used to dishearten me was when people would do crazy things like decide to do the Kokoda Track when they were very unfit and had never done such things before. There were many times that I had to arrange for people to be evacuated, usually to Townsville Hospital. So, please, do not go and climb mountains if you have not practised before going overseas. The Smart Traveller program continues to evolve, and it is a terrific program. I always make sure that my children and their friends—and my friends—register when they go overseas. I think I have become almost evangelical about it.
I have helped citizens with consular problems and issues when they have been overseas. Most people go on a holiday and it goes really well, but sometimes they are caught in a war zone, natural disasters happen or, God forbid, they do not come back from holiday and personal tragedy prevails. I have had the enormous privilege of working with families in times of terrible hardship. I particularly remember the Lebanese conflict, when the port, the airport, every form of transport node, had been bombed. I remember the wonderful work that DFAT did to ensure we got our residents and many thousands of Lebanese-Australians and other travellers who were stuck in Lebanon at the time. That was probably some of the most rewarding work that I did. I think my husband said to me that he could not make any sense out of me for about 30 or 40 days while it was on, because I was always on the phone, doing countless media interviews and updating people on what they needed to do. I thank the DFAT staff. They do some incredible work. The situation got rather heated in that particular disaster.
I was also really proud to work with settlement service providers in the multicultural sector. As the daughter of immigrants, I know only too well how hard it is to come to this country and not have the necessary language skills. I have enjoyed working with refugee settlement services, but we have to do more to make sure that refugees work in the business sector. We need to have more defined pathways to employment and we need to get the business sector involved. I have had the opportunity of having many refugees work for my family, and it has been a rewarding and enriching experience for me. They want what we all want—they want a stable future for their children; they want the very best for their families. I very much welcomed our government's decision to increase the intake by 12,000 refugees in the Syrian crisis. Australia has a very important role to play in making sure these people are settled and contribute to the future of our country.
Now for some reflection on a not-so-nice period. In 2007 I lost my seat—or, as I say, I was involuntarily retired—at the Kevin 07 election. I must say it was a very good marketing campaign. As someone who has had a very strong marketing background, the swing in Queensland was way too much. There was a swing of 10 per cent, affecting me and many members—some of whom are sitting in this chamber right now. I had a swing of nine per cent. It was too much to withstand. They call them bloodshed moments in politics. They happen sometimes. It was a sad time for me, but I left knowing that I had done everything that I could to serve my electorate. So I returned and worked in a family business with my two sisters and I went back to QUT, where I had taught before, to the school of marketing and international business, and worked with some local charities.
I thought my life was going along pretty well until I kept getting phone calls from former Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Turnbull, encouraging me to return. I said: 'No, no. Eleven years is enough. I have done my public service.' But my husband, Robert, and I, as we always do, did a pros and a cons list—and I can safely say that Robert's cons list was much lengthier than my pro list. With the support of my husband and my family and lots of LNP members, I decided to run for the federal seat of Brisbane. It would have been much easier to run for the federal seat of Petrie. But, no, I love a challenge. I felt that I had a connection to Brisbane, as my family had been there for over 60 years. It was a tough campaign and a seat that Labor had taken for granted for a little while. It was very much their heartland, and I knew that was going to be really difficult—a bit like climbing Mount Everest. But the seat had changed and people were hungry for a change, and my team and I campaigned hard. We ignored the detractors who said that we did not have a chance. Under the leadership of Tony Abbott, our campaign was well received. It was a torturous time after the election. There were 14 days of scrutineering—I think I must have dealt with every barrister that was in the Liberal Party—and 14 sleepless nights. We won Brisbane by 1,831 votes, and it meant so much to the many volunteers and the dedicated LNP branch members, who had worked tirelessly.
I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, the Hon. Arch Bevis, who had been a popular local member for a very, very long time. I thank the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, for appointing me to the shadow ministry as the shadow parliamentary secretary for international development assistance and the shadow parliamentary secretary for citizenship and settlement—two parly sec roles that kept me very, very busy, and I enjoyed every moment. In these roles I championed the need for the private sector to play a very valuable role in helping us deliver aid effectiveness. I pushed for more involvement with the private sector and I was absolutely delighted to see our foreign minister, Julie Bishop, create an innovation exchange for foreign aid. I welcome the great work that has been done by the department to work with stakeholders to deliver more effective aid.
I enjoyed the incredible work that I did with the many medical research institutes—particularly to make sure that medical research was a pillar of our foreign aid program, because many of the medical practices that occur in developing countries are antiquated, and we need to make sure that we have very vital data. It is great to see that Bloomberg have teamed up with the federal government to make sure that we get some of that very important data—particularly on births and deaths and the prevalence of diseases—because only then can we roll out effective medical treatments in our region. I was absolutely delighted to see that $30 million was allocated by the foreign minister to set up a special medical research section in foreign aid.
It is really difficult being in opposition, and I feel for my colleagues on the opposite side of the House. When you prepare for estimates it is a very interesting time. Mr Google comes in very handy. I enjoyed providing many questions for my Senate colleagues, particularly in the foreign aid sector—particularly trying to work out the many millions that were spent on foreign aid, and I know that we went very hard on you in terms of the cost of that security council seat, and I played a small part in that I am proud to say.
I am really proud to represent Brisbane in this place. It is a vibrant, diverse, exciting and entrepreneurial city, and it is growing every day. As I look out of my office window on most days, there are seven cranes on the horizon. I found myself the only Liberal in this place to hold a state capital CBD seat. I have represented 30,000 businesses and the many community groups who work so hard. The electorate of Brisbane is dynamic and eclectic, and I have loved every single moment of being their member. Brisbane is an economic powerhouse.
I want to just record some of the achievements that I am so proud to have delivered. There was $125,000 to OzHarvest for a new van to deliver a quarter of a million more meals for Queenslanders affected by homelessness, and also to help to reduce landfill from wasted food. OzHarvest pick up foods from cafes and restaurants and they deliver them to services that provide food for the homeless and socially disadvantaged. Only last week I was really proud to participate in the CEO cook-off for OzHarvest with the Macquarie investments team and chef Ben Williamson from Gerard's restaurant. We cooked an entree, a main course and dessert, and we fed 350 homeless people. And the Brisbane and Sydney events raised $1.4 million, which is just an incredible effort. I want to thank Ronni Kahn. She is an amazing woman and I am so pleased I met her several years ago.
There was $5 million for the Brisbane Broncos for their new training and community development project. I want to thank them for all the work they do in Indigenous development. Without some of that great work, and the Deadly Choices campaign, there would be many disadvantaged communities, and I thank them most sincerely.
There was also $750,00 for the Brisbane Inner North Sporting Community for facility upgrades, $55 million for ferry terminal upgrades after the devastating effects of the floods, and $16 million for local road upgrades and hotspots, and the many, many millions that I fought to deliver to diverse groups to help the many disadvantaged people in our electorate. We have delivered so much, and I know the Turnbull government will continue investing in Brisbane.
I have had the immense privilege of chairing the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I remember that, when I first became a member in this place, I was told I must not put my name down on this committee and it was very balloted and highly contested and I would never get a spot on it. So to find myself, some years later, a chair was truly a privilege. It is the largest committee in the parliament. I want to thank my co-chair, Nick Champion. I cannot say—it is like he has a split personality. In the chamber, he turns into this completely different person. As my co-chair on the joint standing committee, he is the most amenable, cooperative and supportive deputy chair that you could ever have. It is like having this Jekyll-and-Hyde character in many ways. I thank him and I think the many other wonderful members of the committee. I see David Feeney from the other side is here, and so is Melissa Parke. Thank you for all the great work that you have done with our side of politics on this incredible committee. Sometimes the nastiness of politics is left aside when we do this incredibly wonderful work. I want to thank Sharman, who is sitting in front of me, and Dr Jensen, who is also here. There are a lot of members on that committee and I want to thank them so much.
We have engaged with the Defence Force, members of the diplomatic community, the many NGOs and those who work in foreign aid and the academic sector. It is an important committee because it is a conduit to the very many visiting dignitaries and also international delegations. The committee has done a huge volume of work. I am not going to name all its reports. I want to thank all of the past chairs—and I see Philip Ruddock is here as well—for their work on human rights, foreign affairs, aid and trade. I thank Bruce Scott for his wonderful work in the Middle East. I also thank Maria Vamvakinou. So much wonderful work has been done over a long time on defence, foreign affairs, trade and human rights. I am particularly proud of the work that we did in helping to secure the release of Peter Greste. As a committee we worked formidably together. Sadly we were not successful in stopping the executions of Mr Chan and Mr Sukumaran, but we as a committee did everything possible. That was a very sad day for all of us.
I am proud of my other work as the Co-convenor of Parliamentary Friends of Dementia, along with Shayne Neumann, the member for Blair, and I welcome our government's $200 million allocation for research in this area. I see Tony Zappia is here. He also has a very keen interest in this. There are 353,800 Australians with dementia and this figure is expected to increase to almost 900,000 by 2050.
There is another silent problem holding back productivity in this country, and I want to talk briefly about it. It is the difficulty people have in the work place with literacy and numeracy. Recently a report from the Australian Industry Group's Innes Willox found that 44 per cent of people in Australian workplaces have literacy and numeracy problems. Much more work needs to be done here, and I have spoken to my colleagues about this on a few occasions. I think we need to do much more with the business community. This is holding back the productivity of this nation. We really need to work hard on it.
One of the saddest things I saw as an employer was when I gave an instruction on one of our very busy Christmas trading days to a young man. I went to serve customers and two hours later I went into the kitchen and he was still reading the one-page document. It broke my heart. I do not want anyone who works in any workplace in Australia to be hampered because of lack of literacy and numeracy. The opposition will hopefully work with us as well to ensure we have some programs in the future to address this issue.
I am particularly proud of the work I have done on PTSD with our Defence men and women in raising awareness of this issue in the parliament. I believe more needs to be done. I believe we need to tailor specific work programs to help our fine ADF members to transition back into community life, as some of them find it hard to go straight from military life into work life, and then help them to transition back into civilian life. I thank the many researchers and groups, including Mates4Mates in my electorate, who are doing a fantastic job with our service men and women. I also think the many service organisations that work in this space.
I would like to see more women in this parliament. It is absolutely vital that our party organisation preselects more fine women to represent their communities in the federal parliament. It has been a pleasure to work with the Menzies research institute and in particular Senator Linda Reynolds and Minister Michaelia Cash in this space.
It has been a privilege to be co-convener of the Parliamentary Friends of Women and Work along with Senator Moore and Senator Waters. It is absolutely imperative that the issue of pay equity and the number of women on boards be addressed. I was delighted last week to hear Minister Cash lay out our government's target to push for 50 per cent of women on government boards. I cannot understand why, in this day and age, two law graduates, one male and one female, starting at the same firm from the same university can start with different salaries. This is why there is a gender pay gap and women never catch up. It affects their superannuation and their quality of life in later years. I hope that in the future there will be more women elected to this place and that, one day, we will not have to talk about quotas and targets and this parliament will be truly representative of all Australia's population.
I had some wonderful mentors in Senator John Herron, the late Senator Warwick Perrer and the late David Jull. When I first came into this place, they gave me a solid foundation. I thank them for taking the time to provide that guidance to a rookie MP. I thank my parliamentary colleagues. I will be sad to leave. I will miss good members from both sides of the House. I thank the class of '96. It was a very special class. Phil Barresi is finally married—we are all very happy about that—and I caught up with him at his wedding recently. I thank Mal Brough, Bruce Billson, Phil Barresi, Gary Nairn, Ricky Johnson, Bob Baldwin, Sharman Stone, Warren Entsch—how could I forget you, Entschy!—and the many members of the class of '96 who are in this House.
A government member: Andrew Southcott.
And Andrew Southcott—thank you so much, Andrew. There are only a few left. Russell Broadbent is another. He came back to the House a second time. I want to thank my many dear friends in this place, including Kelly O'Dwyer and Sussan Ley. Also, the first person I saw was you, Joel. Joel Fitzgibbon was the first person I saw when I arrived in Canberra. I have never been the same since! You are now a neighbour across the chamber. You and Anthony Albanese were very kind to me and I thank you for that.
An honourable member: Oh, rubbish!
He was—he was very nice to me.
There is not a day when I do not think of the late Don Randall. I miss him terribly. I want to acknowledge him. I thank you, Warren Entsch. I thank my good friends Andrew Southcott, Bruce Billson, Sharman Stone, Louise Markus, Nola Marino, Mal Brough, Ian Macfarlane, Bronwyn Bishop, Julie Bishop, Jane Prentice and Michaelia Cash. There are many others. I cannot name them all. You are all very special to me. I thank you for your support and your friendship. I thank Scotty Buchholz, too, for his work as the whip. I mentioned Nola. It is a tough gig and I thank you for the support that both of you have given to members in this House.
I want to thank the member for Griffith, Terri Butler, and say what a pleasure it was to work with her and my dear friend the member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, on the cross-party Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill 2015. Marriage equality is long overdue in this country and I do regret that we have been unable to get that important piece of legislation through the parliament. Despite a plebiscite not being my preferred course of action, I support the decision of my party and I look forward to campaigning for a 'yes' vote at the national plebiscite after the next election. I also thank the members for Melbourne, Indi, Dennison and Werriwa for their work on the bill.
I thank the many LNP branch members across Brisbane for the wonderful opportunity they have provided me to represent the electorate of Brisbane. To my campaign directors, Mark Wood and Chris Kelly, thank you for all you did to make sure that I got elected. I also thank Robert Lambert. In particular, I must mention Geoff Esdale, Hellen Zappala, Denise Shellback, Louise Baker, Mary Caroline van Paasen, Raewyn Bailey and our local state members and councillors who have worked alongside me in this time. I want to thank the LNP organisation and I wish the new state director, Lincoln Folo, and president, Gary Spence, all the best. I will do whatever I can to ensure that Brisbane remains blue, whoever my successor is.
To the clerks of this wonderful parliament, particularly the Clerk of the House, David Elder, Robyn—who is sitting at the desk—and the many clerks, thank you for your kindness. To the transport department—Greg and his team—and the fantastic staff in the Serjeant-at-Arms Office, thank you for all your assistance over the years. To the wonderful security staff, the cleaners, the parliamentary attendants, the ever-smiling Tim and the wonderful staff in the dining room, thank you for making it such a joy to be in this beautiful building.
I want to take the time to put on the record my thanks to my wonderful staff—some of whom are sitting in the dispatch box today—past and present. My outstanding office manager Luke Barnes's dedication, commitment and loyalty to me, the LNP and to Brisbane is so inspiring. Luke really is one of the best political minds I have ever worked with. Thank you for all that you have done for meR