Thursday, 5 May 2016
As you rightly say, this will be the last speech I make in this parliament. I will start by saying that it has been an absolute privilege and honour to represent the people of Shortland for almost 18 years and to contribute to the national political agenda. It has been an absolute privilege to be part of the Labor caucus and to have my colleagues here with me in the chamber and to have my three colleagues from the Hunter here and to have Pat Conroy, who will be the next member for Shortland, here—and I will talk more about that later in my contribution to this debate.
They are different shoes. That is what we tell everybody: different shoes. I thank the people of Shortland for the trust they have placed in me and for their friendship, and I thank everybody in this parliament on both sides for their friendship over the time that I have been here.
I joined the Labor Party back in 1975 when Gough Whitlam was sacked. The first time I voted, I voted for Labor and I felt that my vote had absolutely been ignored. I felt that it was wrong that a Governor-General could decide who the Parliament of Australia would be. I thought, 'Well, do you sit there and complain about it or do you do something?' and I joined the Labor Party, and I know colleagues on this side of the House have joined the Labor Party and been inspired by Gough Whitlam over the years.
I am one of the few fortunate people who have represented the area at the local, state and federal level. I was a councillor on Lake Macquarie council, and I think that gave me the skills that you need to interact with people. I know that Joel, the member for Hunter, was also a councillor, and it really gives you that understanding of grassroots politics, the things that impact on people's lives. The member for Newcastle was also a councillor on Newcastle council—and, yes, the member for McMahon. We have a lot of former councillors on this side.
Goodness. Okay, everybody on this side of the House was a councillor! I will leave it at that. No—a large majority of us were councillors, and we learnt the skills and we learnt to understand the things that impact on people's lives at that very grassroots level, and we took that very grassroots level to the national agenda. I spent a little bit of time in the state parliament, but I would have to say that this is absolutely the ultimate place in which you can make a contribution to the political agenda.
When I was elected to Swansea, I was actually the first woman from the Hunter to be elected to a lower house seat in either the state or federal parliaments. But the really good news is that 70 per cent of all elected representatives in the Hunter are now women. That is phenomenal—really phenomenal. It shows that Labor has a real commitment to seeing women in this parliament and women in every parliament in the country. I can see Joel sitting down the front there, endorsing my comments!
And taking credit! Yes, our candidate in Paterson, Meryl Swanson, is an absolutely outstanding woman and will make enormous contributions in this parliament.
I was the 949th member to be elected to this federal parliament. That shows just how few people have actually had the honour and the privilege of serving in this House. I made my first speech on 11 November 1998—and 11 November is a special date for all of us. I see the Deputy Leader of the Opposition; she also made her first speech on that day. We were elected together, back in 1998. I am only the third member for the division of Shortland, which was proclaimed in 1949. And I believe I have the fourth member for Shortland sitting right next to me now! I am really proud of the fact that we will have someone of Pat Conroy's quality taking over from me.
To be elected to this parliament is a privilege, a privilege that few people are afforded, and I have always been mindful of that great honour. I believe that all members elected to this place enter politics because they want to make a difference. It is just that, on different sides of the House, we have a different idea of what makes a difference. We have a different vision, different beliefs and different philosophies, and we all strive to see that our vision becomes the reality. And, without a doubt, I believe the Labor vision is the vision that should be the reality in Australia and the one that benefits Australian people. I have always been motivated by the need to make a difference and to see that the values of social justice, equity and egalitarianism are embraced in Australia. As a federal member of parliament it is a unique opportunity to actually do this.
In my first speech, I emphasised that good government is inclusive. It ensures that all people share the wealth of our great nation, and not just a few. It ensures that we have a society in which everyone is valued. It does not govern by fear or by marginalising one section of our society whilst advantaging another. A good government governs for all and delivers fairness, equity and social justice, not division, scaremongering and fear. I have to say that I have sat in this House on many occasions and felt that it was the latter that was being delivered to the Australian people. We as members of parliament should be showing leadership. We should be giving people confidence. We should not be scaring them. We should not be frightening them. We should not be trying to get elected by appealing to the lowest common denominator—by creating fear.
In my first speech I touched on Belmont Medicare office. One of the things I came to this parliament saying was, 'Labor will reopen Belmont Medicare office.' And do you know what? We delivered. We reopened Belmont Medicare office. The Howard government had closed it—yes, shame!—but there is worse to come. The Turnbull government closed it recently.
Opposition members interjecting—
Yes, they closed it. Not only did they close it, but they decided that it was not really a closure; they were going to co-locate it to Charlestown. They had previously co-located the Charlestown Medicare office to the NDIA office—guess where? Charlestown. And now they were co-locating Belmont, which is 12 kays away from Charlestown—
An opposition member: Down the road!
yes, just a short walk for those pensioners who live at Belmont, Swansea and Gwandalan! It is just a short walk for them! And they were co-locating it 150 metres away from the existing Medicare office in the NDIA, so it was going to be co-located with Centrelink 150 metres away from the existing Medicare office. Poor old Belmont. They have no Medicare office, but Charlestown are lucky; they have two.
But the story does not finish there. You would think that maybe this was a cost-saving exercise. You would, wouldn't you—a cost-saving exercise? Well, guess what. I believe it costs in the vicinity of $100,000 to break the lease and to have the fit-out removed. Is that an example of good government?
Opposition members: No.
No, I do not think so. The member for Swan is a friend of mine in this place, and I know that he has a Belmont Medicare office. It was opened at the same time as my Belmont Medicare office, but I suspect his is still open, whilst mine is now co-located 150 metres from another one. Shame!
The other local initiative that I mentioned in that first speech was the Fernleigh Track. We lobbied the Howard government time and time again to have the Fernleigh Track built. They ignored us. They were not interested. Maybe it was because it was a Labor electorate. I decided that I was not going to be put off by this. When we were elected in 2007, not only did we build the link between Whitebridge and Redhead but we built the link between Redhead and Belmont, and now we have this fantastic cycle-walkway that goes all the way from Belmont into Newcastle along the old rail line.
It really shows that, for the people of Shortland, you need a Labor government to ensure that you get the basics like a Medicare office. By the way, people who were travelling to Belmont Medicare office are now finding it absolutely impossible to contact Medicare on the hotline.
My proudest moment in this parliament was when Kevin Rudd delivered the apology to the stolen generations. It was long overdue. I see Jenny Macklin sitting down the front, and I know that she was very involved in that as well. It was a day where the whole of parliament came together. These galleries were absolutely filled. To see Indigenous people throughout Australia standing up and cheering and crying was just unbelievable—unbelievable—and I felt so proud to be an Australian, so proud to be a member of this parliament. It was long overdue. It was like a veil had been lifted from our society while positioning Australia to become a better, more inclusive country.
On Sorry Day in 2000, I—and, I am sure, many members on this side of the House—walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was really one of the most fantastic experiences I have had. As we got to the other end there were three young girls from Taree who were hopping on the train to go back over. They said, 'We've walked across three times already and we're going to do it again!' It meant so much to them that 250,000 Australians had turned out to walk across the bridge that day.
That was followed up by the apology, which I would have liked to see happen a lot sooner than it did. It happened, but we still have work to do with closing the gap. The Closing the gap reports have shown that there has been some progress made but not enough. There is still so much work to be done there. Aboriginal Australians get sicker and they die earlier. They are overrepresented in our prisons. That is something we cannot be proud of as Australians and something we need to address. Of course, our next challenge in that area is constitutional recognition. Constitutional recognition must be something that really delivers. We need to make sure it is not something that just makes people feel good. It has to be meaningful. That will be a challenge for those of you who are left behind, and I know each and every one of you is definitely up to it.
I have always been a politician driven by passion and belief. I have had the philosophy: 'Do what you believe in and believe in what you do.' That has driven me all the way along. One issue that I do not believe has been addressed is asylum seekers. I think history will judge us very poorly when it comes to the way this parliament has treated asylum seekers. We cannot leave people on Manus Island and Nauru forever. There has to be some light at the end of the tunnel. We need to make sure that we are seen as a compassionate nation, a nation that actually does something and does not use asylum seekers and refugees as election fodder. There is a real challenge for members of this parliament to show that we can right this atrocity. It is not good enough and we need to deal with it.
Another issue I have always been passionate about is live exports. I know my colleague Joel Fitzgibbon has been working very hard on this. Mahatma Gandhi said that the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it treats animals. I have to say that animals leaving these shores as live exports have been treated appallingly. I know Joel has been working on this and is very keen to see the appointment of an independent inspector-general of animal welfare. Labor has a good policy in this area. Like the asylum seeker issue, live exports are an issue out there that needs to be addressed.
I would also like—Joel, while I am talking about your area: another little job for you—to talk about the export of greyhounds.
There we go: we are onto that too. Australian greyhounds, in particular those being sent to Macao, are basically sent over there to be mistreated. They are not even euthanased in a humane way. There is no record of the greyhounds that leave this country. I think that as a parliament we need to address that.
Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting—
'A passport system', Joel says. I will be watching. I will not be here but I will be watching—and you know I tweet!
The next issue is health. A passion of mine in this parliament has been health, and it is great to see Steve Irons here because we have both been involved in the health committee over a very long period of time and we have co-chaired a lot of parliamentary friendship groups, such as Parliamentary Friends of Seniors and Ageing and Parliamentary Friends of Rare Diseases, and I know that he is just as passionate about health as I am. I believe that the government is really letting people down. Thank you for your work on the health committee and thank you for working with me, Steve. But I need to make some pretty strong comments about government action in the area of health.
Access to health should be based on a person's need. It should not be based on whether or not a person can afford it. We cannot afford to have a health system here in Australia like the health system that exists in the US. I feel like I have made this speech before, talking about this! And I have made many speeches on health! But going back to the Howard government: under the Howard government, bulk-billing rates fell to 60 per cent, and they came up to 82 per cent when Labor was in government. Now they are on the decline again; we are transferring the cost—we are putting in place a GP rebate, but we are getting the GPs to collect it—and putting in place extra charges and costs for all people who go and see doctors.
We have Catherine King, who is a fantastic shadow health minister. I know she is across it. And the only way Australians can stop these health changes coming into play is by voting Labor.
On education: education is fundamental to everything. If you do not have access to a good education, you do not have access to a quality of life that those of us who are afforded a good education have. To have a system where some people are denied that access to the highest quality of education is unacceptable. Gonski needs to be fully funded. It needs to be put in place to help the most disadvantaged students in schools in Australia. So, once again, it is another job—and we have got Amanda here, who I know is well and truly up to the task.
As to the NBN—well! Pat will be taking up the fight on the NBN. And the rollout in our area has been abysmal. In my office, in the first week that the NBN was rolled out we had 200 people who lodged complaints because they had lost their phone line, they had lost their computer—and on and on it went. Some two months later, they were still without a phone or without a computer. So I am very confident that Pat will take up that issue.
On climate change: I think climate change might be a dirty word at the moment—is it? Does it exist or does it not exist? On this side of the House, we are committed—absolutely committed—to turning it around. The challenge is for those on the other side to match our commitment, because it is of vital importance to not just Australia but the whole of the world. I was in the Pacific recently at the Pacific women's forum. At that forum, the women voted to have climate change as the agenda item for next year's Pacific women's forum. So that is putting it on the agenda and saying how important it is.
As to domestic violence: how can we address domestic violence when funding has been cut? It is so important. You cannot have a situation where two women in Australia are being killed every day. Once again, I know that we on this side are committed to seeing that that is well and truly addressed.
One of my favourites has always been a republic and that is something I am going to work on once I leave this place. Australia needs to be a republic. We need to have our own Australian head of state.
No, I do not think I am presidential material, Joel! Remember, I have that opinion that I always have to express.
I would like to see Palestine recognised. It has been far too long that we have allowed that dreadful situation to exist. I have visited Gaza. I have seen the blockade. I have seen the appalling conditions that people are living in there, and it makes me really sad that that has been allowed to continue.
That now brings me to unions, penalty rates, wages and an area that is a real difference between us and the other side. When I came into this place we had the Patrick's dispute, and I mentioned the MUA. Now we have Work Choices on water. I know that Anthony Albanese, sitting down the front, is really taking it up to the government, because it is not right that Australian seafarers should be losing their jobs so foreign seafarers can be employed on ships working in Australian waters. We should be about Australian jobs in this place. We should be about ensuring workers get a fair wage.
The other union that I mentioned at the time was the CFMEU. This parliament is about to be dissolved because of the trade union royal commission. The CFMEU figured very strongly in that. There are two arms of that union that I have worked closely with over the years. From my previous life as a rehab counsellor, I know how important workplace safety is. Without the work of the CFMEU going into those workplaces and looking at the work safety that takes place on those business sites, there would be far more people losing their lives. I know that that union supports the families of those who lose their lives. So they get in there, give those families money and support them over a long period of time.
It is really important that we have a balance between unions and employers. We need to have unions to make sure that employers really do the right thing on their work sites. I am sorry for those opposite—I know that what I am saying does not necessarily fit with what they believe, but it is something that I am quite passionate about. Of course, CFMEU mining have been fantastic supporters over the years and have done so much in one of the most dangerous industries. Both building and mining are two of the most dangerous industries, with the highest rates of fatalities and injuries in Australia. I recognise the good work that they do and give them my full support.
Now I come to the hard part. I would like to firstly thank the Labor Party members who pre-selected me to represent them in 1998 and who have continued to support me. Pat has some tissues down there that he is supposed to shake at this particular time! They have always been my eyes, my ears and my heart when I am away from the electorate. I have wonderful branch members that go out there and do what they do because they believe in Labor. They believe in what we do here. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to those wonderful branch members. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. They have been wonderful.
Next, I would like to thank the wonderful people of Shortland. You have been my inspiration. My motivation has been to make your lives better and have your voices heard in Canberra. You will always be in my heart. Thank you for the trust that you have placed in me. I have had the privilege to share your lives, to offer assistance to you, to accept offers of assistance from you, and to build friendships and relationships that will last well past my time in this parliament.
I would also like to thank the wonderful community groups and volunteers in Shortland. I have worked with schools, sporting groups, RSLs, Meals on Wheels, pensioners, seniors groups, Men's Sheds, CWAs, environmental groups, caring groups and so many others. You have always made me feel welcome, and I have always felt like I am a part of who you are.
I now turn to my incredible staff. As we all know, we are nothing without our staff. First, there is Kathy. Kathy worked with me when I was the state member for Swansea and she has worked with me for basically all the time that I have been the federal member for Shortland. She is one of the most incredibly loyal and strong people you will ever meet. She has nearly finished studying to become a social worker and she is just an incredible person who will always be my friend. Next, there is Chris. Chris bosses me, tells me what to do, tells me where to go, tells me how I should do it and tries to organise me. He is the extreme boss. I think we all need a Chris to tell us where to go and how to do it! Vicki is the one I probably get the most thank you calls in my office about. She sends out the birthday letters to people and the messages of congratulation. She handles all the requests for Order of Australia awards. She has been with me practically all the time. She is family. Next is Lisa. She is a media person extraordinaire. She too has found herself another job. She is going to be working with Urban Growth at their Parramatta office. She is a phenomenal media person and a person of great calibre. Urban Growth is very lucky to have Lisa.
Alex is sitting up in the gallery. He works part time. He is a uni student studying law. He is going to be a fantastic Labor Party member. He has a really big future in front of him. And then there is Mark. I know that people here know Mark; we had a very close relationship with Nola's office. Mark cannot be with me here today. His wife is very ill. People on this side absolutely adore Mark. He will always be very special and he has made enormous contributions.
Melanie would have been here today but she is attending a funeral. Last Tuesday we had a sporting champions presentation in the office. While we were conducting this presentation—and there were a lot of people who received awards from the Novocastrian Swimming Club—young Jade Frith was hit by a car when crossing the road, and she lost her life. The funeral was held at three o'clock today. I would like to see traffic lights installed in that area to make it safe. It is right near Warners Bay High School. Tracey Blair is up in the gallery. Tracey comes into the office on Thursdays and Fridays. She is a volunteer extraordinaire and she makes our office fantastic. Thank you, Tracey, and thank you, Lorraine, for bringing Tracey here today. We also have Krystle Brown, who also comes in on a Friday and does some volunteer work.
Alex Craig is sitting up there. Alex and I had a photo taken—she is looking all embarrassed, but I love embarrassing people—when she came down here in year 6. Now she works for Michelle Rowland, and I am sure that Michelle would say what a fantastic staff member she is. She is talented and—the icing on the cake—the ACT Young Environmentalist of the Year. Congratulations! You can see that I have been very, very lucky to have some wonderful people around me.
There is one more—I haven't forgotten—Nelson. Everybody knows Nelson. Nelson was working in the whips office. He made sure everybody got there on time. Thank you for coming along today, Nelson.
I also have to acknowledge Chad Griffiths, who is a councillor on Lake Macquarie council—he has done so much work for me as campaign director over the years—and John Jenkins, who has been the president of the Federal Electorate Council.
The Thursday Club: every Thursday I have a group of guys come along—Adrian Vaughan, Jim Bridge, Jim Anning, Paul Daly, John Goverd, Kevin McFadden, Tony Dybell and Des McMeekan—to put together all the books that I hand out. They sit in a back room and they argue with each other and they have very, very lively discussions, just like my granddaughter Ella is—she is crying up there in the public gallery. Sorry, Ella, I didn't mean to bore you! The Thursday Club guys always leave a seat at the table for Wal Drane, who was a foundation member of the Thursday Club. Wal died a few years ago. I made the mistake one Thursday of walking into the room and sitting in Wal's chair. I was told very, very quickly to get up and go!
I have to acknowledge the fantastic support I have received from Anna George—everybody on this side of the House knows how wonderful Anna is—and Debra Biggs. Sitting up in the gallery is Roger Price. Roger and I were whips together. We were quite a team, Roger, me and Chris Hayes, who is now the chief whip. We were a pretty mean team. I have to acknowledge both Roger and Chris. Thank you, Roger, for coming down today. It is wonderful.
That is what he always says—that'll learn ya. I'm really making the most of this last speech, aren't I? Sorry!
That now brings me to my wonderful family. When I was elected to this parliament my daughter Shayne, who has disappeared out of here with her daughter, and my son Chris were at university and none of my children were married. If you look up into the gallery, you can see there are lots of little people. They have been born while I have been down here. I have been really lucky when I have come down here, because my daughter and her husband, Cris, live here, and I have been able to spend time with them.
Lindsay, my husband, is sitting there thinking that I am going to tell the story of one election day. I am not going to tell you that the one person on this particular election day I got a letter of complaint about happened to be a person who had grey hair, who was handing out cards at a particular school that Lindsay was at at that particular time. I had to write this very apologetic letter saying 'I can't imagine who it could have been.' But I am not going to tell anyone that. It is a story for another time. Lindsay has been fantastic. He has always been there to support me. He is a doorknocker extraordinaire, Pat Conroy. You are going to use him, I am sure. He loves doorknocking. I am not going to tell you the doorknocking story. I will tell you that later.
An opposition member interjecting—
No, not now. Maybe that is why he likes doorknocking! Peter, my eldest son, doesn't come to parliament very much, but he is always telling me what we should do. If we need some advice, we should go and talk to Peter, because he has very strong opinions. He is quite critical at times, I must say, but he always votes Labor—and he has the best position for a sign in the electorate. So, thank you, Peter, and thank you so much for coming down today. He now has three daughters. Selina, who speaks three languages, or maybe even four. She speaks English, Cantonese, her grandmother's dialect—and she speaks Mandarin as well. One of my other grandchildren, Jessica, who I will get to in a moment, was telling me how Selina was giving them lessons in Cantonese. That is pretty special. Selina's sisters, Meien and Macey, are not here.
Chris has Sam and Jessica. Where is Sam? Sam wanted me to give a speech like you, Chris Bowen. He thought that you made a fantastic contribution today. He told me to go down there and be strong and give a Chris Bowen speech. He is very, very interested in politics. He tells me that he knows more about politics than anyone in his school, including his teachers. My beautiful Jessica gave me one of the most interesting campaigns I ever had. At that particular time she had ended up in hospital with a multiresistant staph infection. She nearly lost her life. I did most of my campaigning in that election around John Hunter Hospital. She is a very special girl, very bright—and I call her 'my treasure'. Next there is Chris. Chris has always been there. He is the rock in the family.
Then there is Shayne and Cris—Shayne has disappeared yet again. Cris is her husband. He is sitting up there with Asher. Asher is a little boy who always likes to do everything the right way. I forgot you, Jonny. Jonny, you are very special too. Hi, Jonny! Next I have Hallie—hello, Hal! Hallie is Miss Personality. Asher always tells us how we should do things. He always used to run and tell tales on Lindsay because he used to say 'bloody'—is that unparliamentary? It is not, is it? Not now! He would tell his mother that Poppy used bad language. Finally there is Ella, who has taken Shayne out of here.
I cannot, of course, forget my sister Robyn. Robyn is here today. She has come all the way from Nambucca Heads. She is my last remaining blood relative and very important to me. At my first speech my mother was here, but, unfortunately, she is no longer here. Robyn embodies my mother—so, thank you, Robyn.
Finally—nearly 'finally', anyhow—thank you to all the staff in Parliament House who make it possible for us to do our job: the attendants, who look after all of us so well, the clerks, the sergeant's office, the Comcar drivers, the cleaners, the staff in the Table Office, the catering staff, and every other person that makes this place very special. I also thank the committee secretariats—the staff who work on the committees.
Now it is time for me to sit down. But before I do I want to pledge my 100 per cent support to having a Shorten Labor government elected. The Labor team has the policies that will make Australia great—inclusive policies that provide opportunities for all Australians. Bill Shorten will be a fantastic Prime Minister. Now, I did not vote for Bill. I voted for my friend, Albo—the person who has given me so much support throughout my political career. Whenever I needed support or whenever I had a problem, I could always go to Albo. Albo is absolutely fantastic. Thank you, Albo, for everything that you have done over the years. I have really appreciated it.
Finally—and these are my final words—I have to say something about Pat Conroy.
No, I will. You can't keep me quiet. This is the last time. Pat will be the next member for Shortland, and he will continue to make an enormous contribution in this parliament. Anyone who has seen him operate here will know that he is a quality member of parliament. He is a quality politician; a quality parliamentarian. He will bring so much to Australia. The people of Shortland are very lucky that Pat will be their next member. I feel confident in being able to stand down and not re-contest the next election when there is Pat Conroy to follow on. Thank you, Pat. You are so special. He is a person with the strongest possible Labor values. I know he will deliver to all the people in Shortland and to Australia.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It has been an incredible experience. I will finish where I started. As I was saying, what an honour it has been to serve the people of Shortland. Thank you very much.
I would like to start by thanking the gallery for turning out in such numbers for my valedictory speech. It is something that I did not expect. I am very touched. I would have to say that, in some 23 years here, it is the largest crowd of interest that I have had from the gallery—other than the time I put a set of sunglasses on at about 6 in the morning. But I digress.
I was not going to do a eulogy, but I am going to do a eulogy. The reason I say it is a eulogy is: I mean, really, what is a valedictory? A valedictory is a eulogy that you get to do yourself. You get to check and see who is paying attention. You get to watch and see what the reactions are. You get to get back at people who do not give you the respect that you think you deserved on the occasion. You also get to go to the wake. So, in those circumstances, this is a valedictory, but to me it is more of a eulogy. And what better day to effectively end a career. Donald Trump is now a serious political figure in America. Surely, it is time for me to forget that I could ever be a serious political figure here.
It has been a privilege to serve, as all have said before me. But I also have to say that it has been a surprise in some way. When I got here, I probably was not supposed to. And, once I got here, I am sure as hell I was not expected to stay. Back in 1993, I had the honour of winning the seat of Corinella, which was held by the now member for McMillan, Russell Broadbent. I have to say, though, that I did not beat Russell; John Hewson did. And that is the truth. I also have to say that, of all the people that I have served with, or of those opposite in this House, Russell is one of the ones I have come to know, to respect and to hold in incredibly high regard. He also holds the honour, I think, of the best intro. In my time as minister, when I went around the country to various functions, I was introduced by many people—many members of my own caucus, members of the opposition. I think he gave me the best intro of anybody. And I think, also, he genuinely believed it.
What happened after Corinella, of course, was that I got abolished. It was quite confronting because of the fact that I had actually been largely responsible for the Victorian branches' actual redistribution submission. So, if it could ever be said that I did not have much to say about what happened, I think I proved it on that day—and I think others would argue I have proved it on many occasions since. I was then in a situation where I was—to use a term which relates to Trump and the current situation—pretty much the presumptive member for Holt, at least for about 24 hours. Then things went on from there and, as people know, in the end I conceded Holt to Gareth Evans, the then Senate leader. And let me put on record, because I know he does not think I really believe it, I think Gareth was a great Labor icon who made a tremendous contribution to this caucus and to government over many years. I also still think he should have retired then.
Then I went on to Bruce in the '96 election. In the '96 election, as members will recall, things did not look that good for us from a long way out, and I was sitting on a margin of about 1.2 per cent, so I was not planning anything other than 'I'm outta here' once that election was called. Somehow I won—and I still do not know how. But I remember, after the event, getting a range of phone calls from people and catching up with people. One that I remember is Senator Robert Ray, who said to me, 'Fantastic!'—and people who know Robert, and many of you do, know he was very much into football analogies—'Mate, you're a champ. Two for two. You've beaten Broadbent of Corinella. We moved you to Bruce; you've beaten Beale. Two for two. We've got to get you your hat-trick.' I will not use the exact words that I used in that situation, but you will get a sense of what I said. I paraphrase—and I paraphrase politely—'Gee willikers! Robert, if it's up to you and bloody Kim Carr, the chances are I'll be running in Mallee. And I'll bloody well win it.'
Moving on from that, if I talk about the question of my longevity or the fact that it was many times under threat, we come up to 2006 and a situation where the Victorian branch was descending into anarchy. It has never happened before! There was much blood and there was an attempt to knock me and a range of other people off at preselection, and it was successful on a number of occasions for other people. But, anyway, I won that preselection on 50.007 per cent.
An opposition member: Never in doubt!
It was never in doubt. It all came down to one vote. Howard Smith, I will always love you. He has already retired; it is okay, I can get away with that one. I might add that Howard Smith did it. I have lost count of the number of people who have claimed it. But I thank all of them with the sincerity with which they operated at the time. But the thing I would say about this—it says something about what it is like being in a marginal seat, and those of you who are in marginal seats know what it is like—is that being in a marginal seat is like being a gunslinger: it does not matter how fast you are, it does not matter how good; eventually your gun jams, someone comes along who is faster or who shoots you in the back. I guess the point there is that most people do not get the chance to decide when they go and, frankly, I am astonished that I have been here long enough to be able to do that—23 years. As I have said to many of you, if I had killed someone I would be out by now.
Member for McMillan, I tried, but we are both hard men to kill. I am going to jump around a bit because, as I said, I was not going to make a valedictory and I got talked into it. I was also threatened by a number of colleagues. You are just so lucky: 90-second statements today were going to be a rolling version of 'what I would say if I were Alan Griffin', and I decided that I really was not ready for that. So I will jump around a bit.
I want to make a couple of comments about policy issues and some of the policy that I was involved in and make a couple of comments about the time that I have had on the front bench. I was there for a long time and in a range of different areas. I particularly want to thank Jenny Macklin in terms of the assistance she gave me when I became shadow parl sec for health back in '98. I was going to tell the story about how that happened, but I probably won't at this stage—that is probably one for a beer on another occasion! But the great thing about it is: Jenny actually was prepared to give me a very sizeable component of the health portfolio and allow me to do it myself. Occasionally, she would be checking with me about what I was doing but, at the end of the day, she pretty much gave me free rein. And I appreciated that. To be honest with you, a lot of shadow ministers and a lot of ministers do not do that with parliamentary secretaries. But she gave me that chance, and I think I rewarded her with not only my loyalty but also my hard work over that time.
I will focus on one policy issue in terms of that, and that was the debate and the work around the setting up of the gene technology regulation system at that time. The debate on the Gene Technology Bill 2000—and on other related matters, as they always are—was, at that stage, I think, one of the 10 longest debates in the Senate. It was a very complex area. It had those on the extreme left, in terms of the Greens party, basically calling for everything under the sun; those on the extreme right—as in the Hanson party—pretty much asking for the same things; and a need in the middle to try to come up with some sensible policy for the future, and we worked very hard on that. In the end, we were able—at nearly 6 o'clock in the morning, on the day that Nathan Albanese was born, as I recall—to get that bill through. I will quote, from the Hansard, Michael Wooldridge, who was health minister at that stage:
I should put on the record my thanks to the member for Bruce—occasionally in this place you can work together to create a good outcome.
This was met with uproar—from my colleagues. The only one who made the Hansard was Bob McMullan, who said: 'You've just wrecked his career.' I am not going to tell you what Leo McLeay was yelling out! It was very interesting to have that reaction from my colleagues. I do not think it quite wrecked my career. But I have got to say: for a while there, I walked carefully and quickly with my eyes all around!
The other policy area that I will talk about is the one—and I am surprised it ended up being this way—that I am very much identified with, which is the veterans' affairs and defence policy area. I will just tell a couple of quick stories, if I can, about that. I have to be honest: I never wanted veterans' affairs. I see the member for Dunkley over there—another former minister, a sparring partner and a man I respect—and I think he will know what I mean when I say that, as, I am sure, will Deputy Speaker Scott, as a former minister, as would others who have served in this area. I got the call from Kim Beazley after he had come back as leader to come down and see him, when he was doing a reshuffle in mid-2005. I went in to see him—and I had just been to the gym, so I was standing there looking very seductive in a nice pair of shorts! And he said to me: 'You've been in sport and recreation and, frankly, you're not working hard enough; I'm going to give you a real job.' And I said, 'Oh. Right.' And he goes: 'Yeah—veterans' affairs.' And I will not use the exact words that I used, but I said, 'Oh golly! Veterans' affairs. Ohhh.' And he looked at me crestfallen and said, 'You look disappointed.' And I said, 'Well, mate, I mean, they're really hard.' And he said, 'Yeah, but, you know, it's really interesting.' I said: 'Yeah, but they're really, really hard. These people fought for their country. They have no problem fighting with a minister or a shadow minister or anyone else. A lot of them have had problems, and they're still dealing with them. A lot of them stay up late at night on the computer and can be a little bit offensive. And, frankly, it's an area where there's so much passion and often not a lot of clarity.' And he said to me: 'Well, you're wrong.' Then he said, 'Well, actually, you're right, but I'll tell you where you're wrong.' He said: 'You will learn more about your country and its people in this portfolio than in any other portfolio you can have.' And I thought to myself, 'Yeah, right.' We said we would talk about it again, but we never did. And I walked out grumbling. But I then got down to it. And about six months later, I was with Kim in his electorate and we were doing some presentations, and we were in the car, and I said to him, 'Um, I've got to apologise. You were right.' And Kim said, 'Of course I was right. What was I right about this time?' And I said: 'You said to me that in veterans' affairs I would learn more about my country, our country, than I could learn anywhere else.' And I said: 'And you were right: they are hard work, but it's worth it. It's worth every bit.' I have thank him for that, even though I think that in the process I probably ended up being little bit typecast.
In terms of working with that community, it has encapsulated to me a really important part about service for the country, about the really great things about our young people, because so many of them are young and the need for us to do what we can to ensure that, once they come back, we do everything we can. You never, ever get this stuff all right; you never will. And there are a lot of misinformed stories that go around about what actually happens. I have to say that, although there are, rightfully, reasons for complaint at times, the bottom line is: this country treats its veterans better—from what I can tell and from what I have seen—than any other country in the world. You never end it there. You always have to work to the future and there is always more that can be done, but, frankly, that is the case.
I met some great people in that area. I still meet them. I still catch up with some of them. I will always respect them. But, gee, they suck it out of you; they make it real hard. But, nonetheless, I am very proud of the friendships that I made over that time. I am very proud of the work that I did in that area. I am touched by the fact that, even now, I still get people coming up to me at functions and elsewhere and basically telling me, 'We really appreciate what you did.' I might add that they say the same thing about the member for Dunkley, and they say the same things about some of the other former ministers that are here today, such as member for Lingiari.
I want to get serious for a minute, beyond that seriousness, and talk a little bit about some of the things that I hope people will remember. Because, after 23 years, I have worked it all out now. I have got all the answers. So now I just have to explain why the hell I did not do it while I was here—and that is hard. This is something that I said at a meeting that we had last night about the diversity of the parliament and the fact that we need to ensure that we maintain that and a worry I have about whether we will.
I have always said that I think that there are two types of parliamentarians. There are parliamentarians and there are politicians. You can be both, and some have done that. I will use as an example the member for Berowra and also Kim Beazley. A politician, in my view, is someone who comes here to seek to actually wield power. And when I say 'wield power', I do not mean it like it is evil; I mean to actually be part of an executive government and to make changes or to implement the things that they think need to happen for the country. That is their predominant focus. And then, as a separate group—but, as I say, they overlap—are parliamentarians; that is, people who come here and become an important part of the institution in terms of celebrating difference, diversity, issues, being in a situation of getting up and saying the things that you cannot necessarily say when you are part of a government or part of an opposition. They are both really important roles. They are both essential roles. They are both roles that we need to celebrate and maintain into the future.
There is a danger, I believe, in the way parliament has gone over the years that I have been here of a situation where the focus is solely on the issues of the politician. I have been as much at fault in that as anybody, because I have been a factional headkicker; I have basically done what I could at various times to do what had to be done, in my view, to keep things together and to hold it in one piece. I have to say that on some of that stuff now, with hindsight, that I think I have been wrong. I think we need to be able to celebrate that diversity more. We need to be in a situation where we are more able to confront other issues and have those debates. We need to work to achieve those sorts of outcomes. Dissent and discussion—they overlap and, frankly, neither is bad.
I will turn to the media in the context of that because it is actually very relevant. It goes to the question of the nature of how this place is reported and the nature of what that means. I will start off, given there are so many up there in the gallery, by saying that in my experience the journalists in this place are overwhelmingly good, decent people who are trying to do their jobs. That is the nice bit, guys. Having said that, I think that job is made more difficult by a range of things. The adversarial nature of this place does lead us to a situation where we will all tend to put things in black and white and in a manner which actually avoids the grey. That is understandable and it is often the way reporting needs to be done, because of that need to simplify things, but it is not always healthy.
When I first got here, I used to hate the news service. When I say the news service, I mean I used to hate watching the news on WIN TV or the ABC, because you got the Canberra bulletin. You got a half-hour bulletin; 20 minutes were about Canberra and 10 minutes were about Sydney—or thereabouts. On the 20 minutes about Canberra: I think that the ACT government, most of the time, has done a really good job, but I do not really care that the Chief Minister of the ACT has opened another toilet block! I just do not think that that is national news, but that is what we used to get at that time. There was no point watching it, because frankly it was all very Canberra-centric. Now I miss those days. I really miss them, because now we have a couple of 24-hour news channels that are running, predominantly, the same bulletin over and over and over again.
When I was a minister and something went wrong, I would turn the TV off. Normally, I would watch Sky or ABC24 just in case something happened. But when it happens to you, the last thing you want is to have that going over and over again. It is one step off suicide watch. There is a repetitive nature to it. We have lots of programs where it is journalists interviewing backbenchers, interviewing ministers, interviewing shadow ministers, interviewing journalists, interviewing former politicians, interviewing someone who once met a former politician, or interviewing the tea lady. You go through it, and it is all there. The problem with that is that it tends to be very repetitive and it tends to be very much rote learned, and it is a big part of how we now present ourselves. I think that there are some real worries there for the body politic in terms of how we train to actually play roles in the executive government.
I know when I started out in the old days, if you put a press release out, you had to have something to say. It did not get printed, but you had to have something to say, you had to have an argument and you had to present it. Now we circulate transcripts from programs where we are speaking from the lines of the day, and I do not think that is healthy.
Also, we have that whole situation around social media. Everything is so much more immediate. Everything is so much more reactive. It is like we are living in one great big reality TV show. I understand we have to do it, but the fact of the matter is that I do not think it really helps with the debate that we need to have here on so many issues. The other point I would make about the gallery is that, if we went back 20 years, the gallery would have been absolutely chockers, because there were a lot more people employed. There were a lot more people employed to analyse—a lot more people employed to drill down, understand and report the news. I think the situation that many of the bureaus are in now is incredibly difficult. It impacts on them in terms of how they can do their jobs, and it impacts on us in terms of how we are reported.
Another issue is the Public Service. I think we have a great Public Service in this country, but I have to say I worry about exactly how much more we can cut it. I worry about the question: when do we get to the stage where it is efficient and when do we get to the stage that it is deficient? I am genuinely of the view that that stage is coming. There are cultural issues there as well that need to be looked at. I, for one, am not in favour at all of waste, but I have to say we have to be careful about that.
An issue which the member for Berowra raised was around the question of parliamentary committees. I think parliamentary committees are absolutely essential, but I worry about whether we are in fact ensuring they are resourced properly. We have had an explosion in the number of committees in recent times. Although I can see why some of those committees needed to be formed, and they should have been, I do think maybe we have too many committees now. I certainly do not know that we have enough secretariat staff to ensure that they are able to resource them properly. That is going to impact on the quality of reports. There are also impacts on the number of committees people are on and, therefore, how they can engage. It might look good on a CV to have three or four committees, but I do not see how anyone can actually play the roles they need to play in those committees in that way.
The Parliamentary Library is absolutely essential, as other speakers have said. It is an incredibly important part of the support that is provided to members on both sides of the House. Again, the cutbacks there are now starting to have a real impact, and that is going to have an impact on the quality of what we say and what we do, which will have an impact on the quality of the democracy we are part of.
Enough serious stuff for now! Some fun times. I note the member for Grayndler is present, and I had to say something about that. I am putting this on the record because there are attempts being made in other parliaments, in other places, to endeavour to undermine a great tradition, a great icon. Let me be very clear: the fun faction started in 1996. I have to concede it was his name; the member for Grayndler chose the name. There were two co-convenors, and it is for life—and it is me and it is him. Anyone else is a pale imitation and it just will not work. We spent a lot of time in 'red square' as we called it. It was mentioned earlier by the member for Chisholm. I have to address the question that the member for Chisholm half raised in her speech! I want to make very clear that the fact that the member for Grayndler and I endeavoured to engage her in activities around red square as a convivial opportunity to share time with one's comrades is one thing. The fact that she got pregnant soon afterwards is completely unrelated to either of us totally! But we did have some fun times.
I will give you one story from around that time. Back in those days, we used to have a lot more late night sittings. I remember one night there was an immigration bill that was on. It was probably about 11.30 or 12 o'clock at night. It had got to the stage where the member for Berowra was doing something terrible—I forget exactly what—and a number of us were in line to explain to him, in vivid detail, why in fact he was wrong. I had the misfortune of following on from the member for Grayndler. I came in for his last five minutes, and he was haranguing the member for Berowra, the minister. He basically went on along the lines of, 'I will say this to the minister for immigration and ethnic affairs: I will be at functions in Sydney next week on at least four nights out of five, and on those four nights out of five I will be watching him and waiting to see that he does what he said he will do tonight. And I want to make sure he understands that.' He then sat down. And I stood up and I said, 'It's not often that I feel sorry for the minister for immigration and ethnic affairs, but if he's got to spend four nights next week with the member for Grayndler, he has nothing but my sympathy, nothing at all.' He, of course, took offence at this and spoke to me about it later.
But the funniest thing was a week later. I was in my office and he bounds in with a letter. 'See, I have fans,' he said. 'Here is a letter.' A branch member had been listening to the debate at midnight and his letter basically said: 'Good onya, Albo. You were fantastic. You took it right up to the government. They are a bunch of you-know-whats'—dah, dah, dah. 'What a pity you were followed by that right-wing bastard, the member for Bruce, who treated you with such disrespect. He should be deselected'—as some have tried!
Another aside which relates to around that time is when I first became parl sec to Jenny in health. Those who knew me at that stage would know that I was a chain smoker—two packs a day. I actually made some of my best friends in this place in terms of both the member for McMillan and the then member for Kooyong, and also Senator Ronaldson, who was then the member for Ballarat. We spent a lot of time outside airports, outside doors, outside anything, fagging away and, frankly, often solved the world's problems much better than we did when we were in here. The day I became the shadow parl sec for health, I arrived back in Melbourne and I was in my office. I was sitting there and all of a sudden one of staffers came in. Luckily for me, it was a staffer who just cannot hold a poker face, one of my oldest and dearest friends, Pat Gibson
Pat came in, but she was shaking as she handed me a piece of paper. I was thinking, 'Sugar, what's this?' It was a press release from the AMA which basically said, 'Shadow parl sec for health, quit or resign,' and a diatribe about the fact that you cannot possibly have a parl sec in the health area who basically is a chain smoker, and, 'It's an outrage,' and all that. I was reading this, and I was going, 'Oh my God, oh my God,' and then Pat just could not hold it. She just said, 'No, it's a joke! It's a joke!' The current Premier of Victoria and the current Minister for Finance in Victoria very much enjoyed that. I will never forgive them.
In this game, luck is a fortune. I have been sometimes lucky and sometimes unlucky, and some of the times I was unlucky it actually turned out I was lucky. That goes to the question that timing is everything in this business. I am not going to name all the ones that I know, but I am going to name a handful, Arch Bevis, Daryl Melham and Kelvin Thomson, and there are a number of others here as well, who never got the chance to actually have ministerial rank, and in those circumstances it was because of timing. And there are many more like that.
Other than that, just very quickly: leadership contests have effectively had an enormous impact on both sides of the House over the years. It has meant to me and to others that we have lost friends, or those friends have taken a long time to be able to forgive, and it has been a cathartic experience all round. I regret many of the things that happened, although I believe the circumstances were that I did what I had to do. But I fully understand why others would disagree with that, and I respect their views. I am sorry that it all played out that way on so many occasions. But I would say to everyone: we need to learn the lessons of what happened, and we need to understand those lessons. One of the reasons why I have spoken about this at times is for that reason, and I think it is important that we do. Instability is not good for the political system as a whole. The way we have been going, I am reminded of the words of Clarence Darrow when he said: 'When I was a boy, I was told that anybody could become President. I'm beginning to believe it.'
Thanks—and I have to be quick, I am told, so I will be very quick—to my family. My three daughters, Hannah, Bridget and Sophie, grew up while I was here. They are now adults. I am very proud of them. It is a great credit to the work that their mother did to look after them, and it is probably no small fact that I was away for a large part of it. That probably did not hurt!
In the Labor Party, branch members one and all are an enormous support. Whether it be the Wonthaggi branch in the early days or right the way through to the branches around Dandenong and Glen Waverley, they have done me proud, and I hope that they are proud of me. People like—and I will only name a couple—Dale Wilson, who was the state member of parliament and very cruelly treated, as an example, and people like Lee Tarlamis and so on have been there for me right the way through. I want to mention unions and in particular the old Federated Clerks Union, the ASU and all those involved at that outfit. In this situation I particularly want to mention a handful of other colleagues I have not mentioned already, people like Lindsay Tanner, from Victoria; from the Victorian government, Dick Wynne and Gavin Jennings; and I have to say, from the other place, Senator Carr—although there have been times when he has driven me mad.
Parliament House staff one and all—whether it be security, attendants, cleaners, COMCAR, clerks, the sergeants-at-arms, office staff, library, Hansard—you have been fantastic, and you have basically made this place work. I have a temper, and I reckon I have spoken rudely to about five of you in that time. That is amazing. You should all be very proud of the work you do.
As I said, there have been some great public servants that I have worked with. I want to particularly mention Ian Campbell, Mark Sullivan, Ed Killesteyn and Bill Rolfe. Bill recently passed away. They are examples of a great tradition. It is a tremendous credit to them, and it is a great service to me.
We have not got time to do all of my staff, for a whole bunch of reasons, but I want to particularly mention Pat Gibson, who was with me right the way through until very recently retiring; Ray DeWitt, who is still with me now; and Matt Broderick. They have been my Praetorian Guard. They have protected me every chance they could—and sometimes I have needed protecting, no question.
About all my other staff I will make a couple of points. Some of them have gone on to greater things. I mentioned by title Daniel Andrews, who is the Premier of Victoria; Jill Hennessy is the state minister for health; and Gabrielle Williams is the member for Dandenong. None of them have ever done anything I have told them after they have gone, but at least I can drop their names.
Beyond that, Mr Speaker, I would like to note that at the end of this speech I will seek to table a full list of my staff. In order to assist Hansard I have an electronic version. I am just not quite sure that the nature of the parliamentary computer system is such that it will be able to take it without a separate hard drive.
My electorate is a diverse community. It is a community that has struggled in parts but is a community that has always come through. Dandenong has changed a lot over the years. It has, in my view, a good future but it is a work in progress. Glen Waverley is very impressive; I just wished they voted better.
I will end with this: I have found the last 23 years to be at times a great struggle, at times a great privilege and at times too much to bear, but here I am today. As I have said to a few of you, I feel a bit like one of the characters in The Shawshank Redemption: I am about to be de-institutionalised after 23 years. The question will be: can I cross the road? Am I going to be able to do basic tasks? Some have said, will I in fact—
An opposition member: Will you sit in the gallery?
No, I will not sit in the gallery! And if I do, people are happily allowed to have me shot—well, maybe I'll go once.
If you look at TheShawshank Redemption and the characters, the question is whether I am going to go and work in a supermarket and hang myself or whether after metaphorically crawling through acres and acres of excrement I will end up in a situation where I smite my enemies. My children, I am glad, think I will do the latter. I was very proud of that until I thought to myself, 'I hope they mean that's because: "Dad, you fight and you always try and win."' I was a bit worried that they thought I had covered myself in excrement too often.
I am conscious of the time, that it is time to go. I am conscious of the fact that it has been a great honour. I thank you all. It has been—fun?