Thursday, 5 May 2016
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for being in the chair during this speech. It will come as no great surprise that I will probably not be talking to the address-in-reply—sad but true.
I have been thinking long and hard about this speech today and have actually put words on paper, something I rarely do nowadays for a speech. I could not quite fathom what one says when one gets the chance to say goodbye, thanks and, 'I loves you all.' Most people leave this place not at a time of their choosing, so when you get that privilege you need to show it some respect. All of us here are constantly asked, 'Why? What drove you to a political career?' I often feel like the contestant at a beauty pageant getting the sash, when I answer, 'World peace.' But I do not resile from that. I genuinely wanted world peace when I joined the Labor Party in 1987, at Greg Sword's house in Ashwood, and I want it more today. I joined the party because I wanted to be part of change and to make a difference. I did not join at university; I joined the local branch because I wanted to be part of something. We had been through a tremendous time during the International Year of Peace, when my elder sister, Nina, had been very involved in a program that, sadly, ended not in a peace communique to the UN but in a police riot. The paddy vans arrived and The Age the next morning read 'Youth peace forum ends in riot'. I was sick of this. I was sick of all the armchair experts willing to throw rocks but not willing to actually do something to create a better world and a better community. Barack Obama put it well when he said:
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.
I never thought I would be a member of parliament. I often describe myself as the accidental member for Chisholm. I got asked to nominate in 1997 as we needed a candidate. I told Steve, my long-suffering bloke, who has been on this journey with me the whole way, 'It's okay, I can't win.' We were renovating a house. I was in the midst of an intensive EBA negotiation with ANZ bank for 22,000 staff Australia-wide, with six state secretaries and one national union secretary to keep on side. We led bank staff to their first ever industrial action, and Steve and I were thinking of starting a family. So it was not the time to think of running for parliament—so, yes, of course that is what I did. I never got to live in my fully renovated house. I have never used my ILVE oven. I dream of my ILVE oven I have never got to use! The FSU did triumph and got a great deal that, sadly, stood there for nine years because of the Howard government, but it was a great deal and they deserved it. After my first 12 months in parliament, I gave birth to my daughter, Maddie.
Labor won the seat in Chisholm in 1998 through hard work and a bit of good luck. I am grateful to Michael Wooldridge for seeing sense and swapping seats! The first campaign was fun. We had nothing to lose and almost nothing to work with but drive and enthusiasm. I lost a stack of weight and had a ball.
Five more elections to one of the most marginal seats in the country and the fact that I get to decide when I leave are testament to a great team around me. I thought I was gone on more than one occasion. I had a phone call from my last Liberal opponent, John Nguyen, just the other day, wishing me well. He did everything in his power to unseat me at the last election; he gave it his all.
I did not think I would ever get here, let alone last almost 18 years. I did not have my maiden speech written when I was three years old, like I suspect Kevin Rudd did! I finished mine at three in the morning before I gave it. Mum said it was not quite the greatest. So I am trying to make amends for that today, as she is here today, as was the extended Burke clan back in 1998. Nina, my eldest sister, has made it today, and I know the rest of the clan is listening in. Those of you who know us know that my mother has never quite worked out what she did right or wrong, because at one stage, of her five children, four of us were working for trade unions and my little brother was at Slater and Gordon. I think it goes to my parents' drive and determination to make the world a better place—to show us, through their Catholic faith, a struggle for social justice.
My children, Maddie and John, are here with me today but of course were not in 1998 because they 'were not'. I can mark my election success by the growth of my children. They are no longer young—and I hope I have not sacrificed my time with them by being a member of parliament. Yes, I have missed things, but I have also had the opportunity to be there. I skipped a leadership challenge to go to Madeline's first day of school. Heck, at that stage, we had had so many leadership challenges, what was another one! A lot of people said to me, 'Everyone'll know you're not there. It'll be a big issue. Maddie won't mind you didn't come.' But I would have minded that I did not go to Madeleine's first day of school, so I did. I have to be honest, and I apologise to the electorate: I did nick out of a few question times to make it home to the yearly school concert. I have tried to be at most of my children's parent-teacher interviews. I even had to fly home once to discuss turning off my father's life support system. He managed to live for another 10 weeks, though. I thought that was grossly unfair of him at the time! But it was difficult. My father, for all his challenges, was one of my greatest supporters and fans, and also my harshest critic, and we still miss him.
I took my kids to everything. I breastfed them—very discreetly—in front of an enormous array of people. One Army major sitting in my office was a bit mortified one day when there was a squeak from the corner of my office: 'What's that?' I said: 'It's a baby.' He said, 'What do you mean, it's a baby?' 'It's a baby!' 'What are you going to do?' I said: 'What do you think the baby wants to do now!' 'We'll leave.' I said: 'Fine. If you want to leave or you want to stay, it makes no difference to us. She's going to get what she wants.' I fed her in front of a year 12 politics class, and the class were great; the teacher did go a bit white. The Greek and Chinese ladies in my community still ask me why John is not at events with me. When I explain that he is 14 now, they say, 'How did that happen?' And sometimes I wonder: how did it happen?
I did tuckshop duty and baked cakes for school fetes. I love our local 24-hour K-mart. Thank God for 24-hour K-mart—for those forgotten presents, oranges and snakes, so many things. I did of course leave my children at child care and got the apocryphal phone call: 'Are you coming to get them?' And, yes, I have regularly been late. But it has made the adventure all that more fun.
While sitting in the Speaker's chair, I had texts saying, 'Where are my hockey socks,' to which I replied, 'I'm in Canberra. I suspect they're in your sister's drawer.' 'Oh yeah' would be the reply. I had people ring me, when I was in the Speaker's chair, asking, 'Are you going to be picking the children up tonight?' 'I don't think so; I'm in Canberra.' But we have managed it all, just as every other working family in the country does.
Steve has been there the whole way, giving up work and going part-time—but only after he actually threatened to go to the industrial relations commission when his employer informed him that part-time work was only for women. We have changed that. Many of the things in this place that we describe as women's issues are not; they are family issues. They are issues for our community; they are issues for our society. Steve has changed careers. He has retrained. He has on occasion accepted being called 'Mr Burke'. He has cooked. He has cleaned. He has driven everyone to where they needed to be and felt all my frustrations and triumphs along the way. I could not have done it without him.
We all trot out the line that it has been an honour and a privilege to serve—because it has been. Since Federation, there have been 1,665 members in this place and, of those, only 165 have been women. Those of us sitting on these green chairs belong to a very small collective, but many more have tried to get into this place. To have had this honour bestowed on us by those in our electorates, and for successive elections, is something to say thank you for. Thank you for putting your faith in me to take genuinely the role of being your representative and to serve in this august institution. It has been a blast and often times incredibly frustrating but, above all, it has been an honour.
My moto in politics has always been to be active and approachable, and I think I and my staff have lived up to that creed. I like the line by Trollope on which I based my honours thesis: 'It's dogged as does it.' That is what life in politics has been for me. Sadly, the quote ends: 'It ain't thinking about it.' But I have thought about it—all of it—and that has made it sometimes much harder. I still believe it is the narrative, the vision, the light on the hill to which the electorate is drawn and craves—a vision that will drive action for a better world. Sometimes it does not feel like that to us here or to the electorate, but I think that is why we all come to this place. Thomas Jefferson, the founding father and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, said:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.
On the flip side, one of Australia's own founding fathers asked the people to vote for the lofty aim of Federation with the words:
We shall found a great nation, and there will be cheaper meat.
We do have a great nation, one that every day I have served and marvelled at—but, sadly, there is no cheap meat.
What I have enjoyed most is being in my community, working with hundreds of great community groups, schools, kinders, service organisations, universities, research institutions, businesses big and small, hospitals and individuals who all work to the benefit of the whole community. As members of parliament, we get to step into their lives for a small moment to see them at their best and worst, to be there for the triumphs and the tears. It is amazing the things you get to see and do in this job that you could easily never know existed. I remember being at the100th birthday of Phyllis Winifred Smith, who had organised her own messages and party and said that I could come because I was a nice girl, even if I wasn't a Liberal. There was the celebration of the 61st wedding anniversary of Ron and Margaret Snell that was held in my office. They did not want to make a fuss at their 60th, but we thought we needed to make amends on their 61st. There was the opening of the Translational Medical Centre at Monash Medical Centre.
On another occasion I can recall standing with the workers at the closure of Arnott's factory and seeing the loss of 500-plus jobs and then, sadly, the factory. Its site has now become housing. There was the celebration of the successful transitioning of auto parts manufacturer, Bosch, who will survive beyond the auto industry shutdown. There was the visit to the Ashwood School, which is a disability service in my electorate, where one day we applaud a child who has learnt to tie their laces and the next day that child is off to the swimming trials for the Paralympics. There was dancing with Greeks to celebrate Saints Anargiri feast day in Oakleigh. Opa! I can do it beautifully!
There was the help we gave to countless individuals with migration matters such as helping Rosewinda's daughter Ruwimbo get a permanent child visa to come to Australia, because, sadly, she had been left behind when her mother, who was facing persecution in Zimbabwe, had to flee. We received one of the nicest bottles of red—I do not think we deserved it. It was wonderful to see them reunited. There was the cutting of pig on numerous occasions to welcome in Chinese New Year, listening to the fire crackers going off and being at the dusk to dawn ceremony at Box Hill, with over 80,000 Chinese people. I remember marvelling at the Italian men wanting to dance passionately with their wives after 50 years of marriage, and applauding the Tamil community, who strive to keep their language and dance traditions alive in the next generation.
I remember watching the pride of the Jewish community in the academic excellence of their students and in their culture. Although they do not live in my electorate, they have the largest school in my electorate. And then there was applauding students at Kingswood for winning vocational training awards; watching the solar car fly at Box Hill High and the rebirth of Ashwood High School; being at countless grade 6 graduations and marvelling at the ability of adolescents to walk in ridiculously high shoes; watching as a 3D printed jet engine came to life at the additive manufacturing plant at Monash University; buying my first Big Issue from Craig; having Alexis and Opal in my office, as no one else will give this highly intelligent disabled woman and her assistance dog the break she deserves; and working to undo complex Centrelink matters and resolve intractable housing disputes.
We were reminiscing, and one of my staff, Jason, who has been there almost from the beginning, said, 'I do remember in the first few months when I started with you in Box Hill how we helped a woman who was a victim of domestic violence out the back door of the office as she was fleeing from her partner and was terrified he would be loitering out the front.' He said that has always stayed with him.
I remember attending the funerals of too many branch members and community leaders, most recently the magnificent Robyn Fenton, the most vibrant special education teacher you could ever know. It did not look like she had died, because they painted her coffin a bright pink. She was too young, and we all miss her.
I remember being at the Box Hill Vietnam veterans' black tie dinner and their dawn service at Oakleigh RSL, as we marched down the street, and Clayton RSL—where the World War II veterans have finally taken to the Jeep—as we marched from the club to the cenotaph. Sadly, I have seen many of them pass away, too.
I remember watching the pride the Indian senior citizens take in the work of their community, and eating my way through too many Kariatides ladies lunches; in my electorate I have eaten my way through every ethnic cuisine known to man! And I have never satisfied them—I have never eaten enough—and I apologise. And then there was helping sell Box Hill Lions cakes and sell sausages for MASH Rotary; being the butt of the tail twister at Waverley Lions and understanding that our community does not work without the great work of all these amazing service organisations; attending the Christmas barbecue of the Damper Creek volunteers, who have turned a barren creek into a calm forest oasis in the suburbs; standing with the community over rotten planning decisions; cheering the Box Hill Hawks—at least one of my footy teams has to win some time!—and watching Waverley Hockey take on Camberwell, and remembering I have to cheer for the blue and not the tangerine side.
I remember seeing the joy and hugs at Eastern Gymnastics as some small child completes a beam routine without falling off; knowing Christmas has arrived by being at Carols at the Grove; supporting the dedication and drive of the members of the Asian Business Association of Whitehorse as they achieve great things for business in our community; watching the joy and sorrow of recognition at Cabrini nursing home as the choir, led by the 105-year-old pianist, sing in tune—kind of; handing out the award each year at Waverley Guides; and being at the annual Amaroo Neighbourhood House Art Show and marvelling at people's creative talent and dedication to our community.
Sometimes this was just a week in my life in the electorate of Chisholm, and of course there was so much more, summed up in an incredibly touching email from a constituent:
As you prepare to depart parliament, I would like to thank you for your commitment over the last 18 years. You have been a great local member who has done much for our community. From visiting to my children's schools, to speaking with them when they visited Canberra, to your response to emails and to your willingness to chat with people on the street, you have made yourself very available. Poor Stefanie has large shoes to fill.
Being a politician is a tough life, enjoy not being a politician. Thank you
I have championed many causes in this place, but one close to my heart is anaphylaxis. Meeting parents of children who have died from an anaphylactic shock is a sobering experience. Speaking to the Baptists about the hole left by Alexis' death and the Tates' loss of Louis has left me to wonder: why? Why do more children have to die before we see common-sense legislation that will literally save lives? One in ten children will be diagnosed with life-threatening anaphylaxis—not a rash or tummy ache. So we need to raise awareness about allergic disease and fund research. But in the interim we need to work on prevention and training in how to use an EpiPen in situations where you literally can save a life. So I was absolutely rapt to be with Catherine King last week at the Monash Medical Centre when we announced that a Shorten Labor government will commit $1.1 million to better manage allergic diseases and their associated health risks. I thank her greatly for that.
I am proud I am leaving behind the Do Not Call Register, an initiative I championed and introduced from opposition. I am taking credit; I do not care what anyone else says!
An opposition member: You should!
I think I should! I did it and I think I should. Issues of consumer affairs are often ignored by many of us, but they impact on everybody's life. I think we have done something great by returning your home to being your castle and not a telemarketing paradise.
I have said enough on asylum seekers here and everywhere. You know what I think. You know I think what we are doing is wrong, but I am not going to run away from the issue. Tim Winton, who spoke at the Palm Sunday peace rally in Perth last year, summed it up well:
To those in power who say the means will justify the end, I say I've heard that nonsense before. It's the tyrant's lie. Don't you dare utter it in my name.
If current refugee policy is common sense, then I refuse to accept it. I dissent. And many of my countrymen and women dissent alongside me. I don't pretend to have a geopolitical answer to the worldwide problem of asylum seekers. Fifty million people are currently displaced by war and famine and persecution. I don't envy those who make the decisions in these matters, those who've sought and gained the power to make decisions in this matter. I'm no expert, no politician. But I know when something's wrong. And what my country is doing is wrong.
We're losing our way. We have hardened our hearts. I fear we have devalued the currency of mercy. Children have asked for bread and we gave them stones. So turn back. I beg you. For the children's sake. For the sake of this nation's spirit. Raise us back up to our best selves. Turn back while there's still time.
I echo Tim Winton: let us 'turn back while there is still time'. Let us show we are a nation not of small hearts. But, in my own words, I say to everyone listening: Labor is not the current government. It is incumbent on the Turnbull government to resolve this issue now, and to deal with these human beings as humans, not political footballs. These are people so traumatised that some of them are setting themselves on fire at Nauru. A High Court ruling has said that the asylum seekers have to be removed from Manus Island. These are not illegals, these are not criminals; these are refugees. Something needs to be done. I know we can do better and I know the public is asking us to.
I would like to talk also about climate change, foreign aid, and higher education research, but I have gone on way too long already. But I do know that I am part of the first generation to leave the next generation worse off, and I despair of that. I think we need to do great work in that space, particularly in climate change. Again, I applaud what this side of parliament has done and has always done. I was proud to be elected in 2007 and to see us introduce great legislation then. I want to know that we will be re-elected as a Labor government to do some genuine action in that space.
You do not get here without a lot of help, and I am going to read a lot of names, because I owe it to them. I want to thank the following party members: Peter Chandler; Sue Hopgood; Jan and Cyril Kennedy, who got to think that I was not a right-wing, nasty person but an okay girl—they kind of like me now; Howard and Marie Hodgens; Gary and Jan Dircks; Graham Hill; Peter Rennie; Dan Hill; Wendy Dickerson, who keeps me alive with her many emails; Helen Buckingham; Barbara Dwyer; Tony Monogal; Lorie and David Werner; Gonzollo; Brenton Ward; the marvellous Manfred Xavier; Sam Lin; Halinda Strnad, a holocaust survivor who has done so much for our party; David Schulz; Raff Ciccone; Josh Beggs; Christine Barcham; Margret Oldfield; Bob and Ravel Kirkwood; Kathleen Brasher; Tom Huxom; Mark Coffey and Susan Berkeley; Dimity Paul; Malcolm McDonald; Chris Wilkes; Michael Watson; the entire Chiron family; Robert Chong; Sharon Ellis; Alan and Margret Clausen; and some great supporters who are not party members: Norm and Toppsy Gibbs, and Margaret Taylor.
I do not have too many local Labor members of parliament. I am in a seat of 'Liberaldom' in my neck of the woods. So, for the support I have had over the years from Shaun Leane, Steve Dimopolous, Burwood Bob, Maxine Moran and Jacinta Collins, I thank them dearly—for everything. In the early days there was an amazing guy called Bert Stephens, who just rocked up on my door and offered me help. I am eternally grateful.
Thank you to my amazing staff, who have been there from the beginning. Some of them have lasted the whole distance. A couple of them have been made redundant and have come back again, which I think is pretty remarkable of them. At the beginning it was the inevitable Rachel Davoren who made it all possible. Rachel was a star. People love her or hate her, but she could campaign till the cows come home. She was incredible. Matthew Merry and Kerryn Buckney were there at the beginning. Kerryn came along and set up me up like she had served Robert Ray, and I have had barely anything go wrong in respect of entitlements because of it. Janet Chiron, Mathew Cooper, Faye Dapiran, David Di, Joe Fennessy, Ainslie Gowan, Alastair Gowing, Karen Heidtmann, Jason Lebisch, Rick Prakhoff, Louise Roche, Jehane Sharah, Liana Staffa, Peter Stephens and Gayle Vermont were all in my electorate office. They have all done amazing things. They have all served my community so well. Jason, Rick and Janet have been the backbone of the office for so long, and I thank them dearly.
When I was Speaker and Deputy Speaker I had phenomenal staff. We need phenomenal staff in that office. It was actually my time as Deputy Speaker that was probably more trying. I know most of you will find that hard to believe, but it was the day of the cardboard cut-out of Kevin Rudd that will be forever etched in my memory. I had been Deputy Speaker for a week. I had never done it before. We were sitting in this chamber. Bernard was sitting in the clerk's chair. We were all sitting here: 'What does one do with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of the Prime Minister? Especially when we've agreed under the standing orders that I can't throw anyone out.' It was horrendous. You can YouTube it. I survived that. So did Lindy. Lindy was amazing during that time. She lost her job. She came back again. She served me well, and I say thank you to her. Thank you to all those staff, particularly the ones who we affectionately refer to as 'the get me re-elected people'.
Thank you to my amazing family, to my mother and father—to my mum, Joan, who is with us today, who brought up five children on the smell of an oily rag, put us through private school and then all on to university, at the same time going and graduating herself as a mature student. It has been an amazing effort, and we could not have done it without you. Thank you to my father, Bernie, who is gone; to my endearing brothers and sisters, their partners and their children: Tony, Liana, Sara, Emma and Chris; Nina, Gerard, Julian, Tim, Matt and Sinead; my sister Sophie; Paul, Melinda, Thomas and Alice, and to my fantastic in-laws. I have amazing in-laws and they have been, again, the backbone of how I have managed to do this—John, Maureen, who sadly is no longer with us, Jenny, Dermot, Lily, Greg, Elise, Leo, Hazel, Katy, Emmett and Henry: thank you all.
Thank you to the staff in this place who look after us so well and who I got to know amazingly well in my time as Deputy and as Speaker. Thank you to the attendants, particularly Luch, who looked after me so well. To the security guards in this place: you are amazing. To Hansard, the cleaners, the people in stores, the people in the shuttle, the Table Office, the PLO, IPRO, the sergeant's office and the gym staff: thank you. I like going to the gym, as some of you may know. To Comcar, DPS, DoFA, the Aussie's people who make my coffee every day without my even saying what I want, all the people in the Library but most importantly the clerks, who are the backbone, the corporate knowledge, of this place, I say thank you. To David, to Bernard, to Claressa and to all of you I say an enormous 'thank you'.
It was not an easy time in the hung parliament. I used to watch as Bernard scrawled in his hand the changes to Reps Practice that he was making on a daily basis as we changed precedent literally before our eyes. On occasion Bernard and I both sat there and said: 'Well, what do we do now? Actually, nobody knows; we've never done it before.' It was an amazing period. I also think it demonstrated that we belong to an amazing institution, an institution that does us proud. People can go on and say that the hung parliament was bad. I don't think it was. I think it was an amazing period in our democracy. It demonstrated that this parliament works. Legislation was passed—actually, more than has been passed in this majority parliament—committee meetings happened; committee reports were done; private members business took place; private members business actually became law. It was an amazing time and, I think, upon reflection, people will understand how truly wonderful it was. But without the clerks, without the institution, it would not have happened. As we go into an election, I think we in Australia, who take our democracy for granted, need to reflect on how grateful we should be to the institutions we have.
I wish Stephanie Perri, the Labor candidate for Chisholm, well. She is a phenomenal human being, a great person. I have known her for a long time. I know it is going to be a struggle. We never take for granted that we will win the seat of Chisholm, but she will be able to do it.
Frustrations were many over the years. Being in opposition was always a frustration—not being able to get things done. I personally am frustrated I never got to speak from the dispatch box. I think I had more to give, and I was disappointed I never got the chance. There were very dark days in 2010 and again in 2013. Being told by the Prime Minister that she thought I would be happy being the chair of a committee really did leave me a bit speechless. When I asked her if she thought she would like to be chair of a committee, seeing as we had both been elected in 1998, I just got a blank look. I was not in a good place at those times. Through it all, my family were phenomenal. At home that was easy; I could ignore this joint. It really hurt here, though. So I need to put on the record my absolute appreciation for my long-suffering roommate, Catherine King. She has put up with a lot. I know I would not have made it without her, and I am eternally grateful.
I have had many friendships in this place. There are Tanya and the girls of 1998, Nicola, Kirsten and Michelle—they were all there. We all then went on and had children. It was a rather remarkable group. There is Jenny Macklin, who has been there too. More recently, there have been Maria, Melissa, and Andrew Giles. In the fun days in Red Corner, Albo and Griffin tried to lead me astray with the 'fun faction', but, as I was very soon pregnant, that did not work out either! But they were a hoot—
to be around. Totally unrelated! Steve is here. Look at my children: they look very much like me and my husband.
I promise to know neither country nor creed, but to serve all justly and impartially …
The world has benefited from the remarkable life of Caroline Chisholm. She had a dream of a better life for those less fortunate. She was stymied and vilified by the establishment of the day, but she triumphed, through her dogged persistence to her cause, and achieved respect and support for her endeavours because she had a vision. I hope I have emulated in a small way that dogged determination to make the world a better place and to achieve the great objective of 'the light on the hill'. The last word, though, goes to Trollope again:
It has been the great fault of our politicians that they have all wanted to do something.
I have a well-earned reputation for bluntness and curtness. This will be the first and last time that I will seek the indulgence of my colleagues to go over time. At the outset, I want to recognise Indigenous ownership of this land. That is particularly appropriate for me to do as the retiring member for Werriwa: it amazes me that, in the racism of 1900, a number of people decided that they would call a federal seat the Indigenous word for Lake George, near Canberra
As the Leader of the Opposition would well know, it is particularly appropriate at this time because in April 1816, 200 years ago, the Appin massacre occurred in the region that the member for Macarthur and I represent. There has been a month of activities out there, led by the Liberal mayor of Campbelltown; a Catholic nun who lives in the community, Sister Kerry; the Campbelltown Arts Centre; and the local reconciliation group, who have rejected the arguments by some media commentators that we should remember every single moment of Gallipoli but basically abandon and forget the way in which whites conquered this country.
We talk about many other aspects of Indigenous affairs, including incarceration rates and the lack of progress on Closing the Gap, but I was pleased to note recently a decision in this country that $20 million would go towards Indigenous language preservation. The number of Indigenous languages has gone from over 400 to a situation where possibly only 20 will survive. So I recognise that decision.
I am very passionate about diversity in the world. The book Spoken Here, by Mark Abley, is about the whole world of language, but he starts with an Australian example. Patrick Nudjulu was one of the last three speakers of Mati Ke in the Northern Territory. Now he has probably died and the language has probably died since that book was written.
It is an eternity since June 1967, when I walked across Guildford Road to join the local branch at St Mary's Anglican Church. I was a precocious 14-year-old. I had spent the previous year in the polling booth for the most intense election in my lifetime—the 1966 anti-Vietnam election. What also seems far away is my misspent youth in the Carlton bar, near the Sydney Law School, and similar establishments around the university suburbs of Glebe and Newtown. This led to the disappearance of my parents' hopes that I would be a lawyer.
However, in that period, with a group of people including John Overall, John Whitehouse, Jeff Shaw, Rod Cavalier, Joan Evatt, Pam Allan, Peter Crawford, Peter Baldwin, Bruce Clarke and many others, we established a very strong university Labor club, which we utilised to seize control of the New South Wales Young Labor organisation for the Left. It was a powerful club. Amongst its many visiting speakers was the current Prime Minister of this country. I had already read Borkenau and Bolloten and Deutscher, so I was a bit disillusioned with Stalinism, but he came to the club and he appealed that we should form a popular front of progressive liberals like himself—the communists and the Labor supporters—to defeat these evil conservatives at the university campus, such as his predecessor as Prime Minister!
Those things are distant, but it seems like yesterday that I hopped in a car with Peter Baldwin, John Faulkner and Daryl Melham to come down to the first Left caucus meeting to meet Gerry Hand, Duncan Kerr, Harry Jenkins, Brian Howe, Peter Staples, Nick Bolkus, Carolyn Jakobsen, Olive Zakharov and many others, including Barney Cooney and Jim McKiernan, who I lived with for a decade. When they retired, I thought it would be impossible to have such a good connection with other colleagues, so I then moved out. I want to thank Audrey and Rob Rough for accommodation at their house since then, for the last 16 years. Although the accommodation is very good, my wife delights in ridiculing it as a yurt, but it is great accommodation.
A few months ago, I was with one of my closest comrades and friends, Jim Lloyd, after a meeting of the Granville Central branch in my old electorate, and he said, 'Laurie, are you going to make a valedictory?' and I said, 'No, I can't be bothered.' He said: 'Laurie, you have to. You have to thank Maureen.' I want to say our first meeting was not propitious. Tom Uren, my predecessor in Reid, despite support from the right-wing machine and the local Catholic Right, was challenged in a preselection ballot. I and the executive of the FEC met in Alan Clarke's garage in Myall Street, Auburn. There was a small branch called Birrong. We were not really sure about them and so we were a bit hardline in our credentialling. The then Maureen Voltz had forgotten to sign a pledge eight or 10 years previously, so we duly eliminated her from the ballot. Unbeknown to me, she wandered away and left the Labor Party, and it was only when she came to the Federated Miscellaneous Workers Union—
as you do—that we became very connected and I actually revealed to her that in those years previously I was the person who had eliminated her in the preselection ballot that led to her leaving the party. She forgave me and she has been an enormous support politically. She is a very constant, and often correct, critic and has sacrificed much for me. She left school at 15, pushed out to work by her mother despite her academic ability. One of the best times of her life was to go back to East Sydney TAFE, do the higher school certificate and matriculate. She got to university and then faced the demands of countering a huge stacking of the branches, which was motivated by people's attempts to overcome development rules, basically to get their own way on developments. It was an enormous struggle at that time, night after night going out and recruiting—it was my first experience of ethnic recruitment—with people like Frances Rees, who worked for Tom Uren; Samir Bargashoun; and Phil Gordon. I thank Maureen for her endless support over the years.
Through her, of course, I have had the support of my stepkids, Anthony, David and Lynda, and the moral support of Mark, who has been married in Austria for 30 years but has always been very supportive. I am particularly thankful that my stepdaughter, Lynda Voltz, is now in the state parliament of New South Wales and is, I am pleased to say, a very independent person who does not get pushed around by factional warlords. I also acquired Maureen's ex-husband Bruce as a constant support on election day. He has always been there to support me.
I am, indeed, from a very political family. The member for Berowra has mentioned this on occasion. My father, of course, left school at 13 during the Depression, was retrained after the Second World War and eventually became Deputy Premier of the state. He left the state parliament acknowledged by all as the best-read person there, despite leaving school at 13. But we are even more political than that. My two grandfathers were politically active—one in the Communist Party, the other in the Country Party. The father of one of my grandmothers ran as the federal Labor candidate for Reid against the Langites, and when Paul Keating went back to Galway, to his home village of Tynagh, the person who greeted him, as chairman of Galway County Council, was my father's second cousin. So, all four lines of our family have been in politics. Tonight in Sydney Colm Dolan, who is the son of that second cousin, will become an Australian citizen, having migrated from Ireland under our skilled intake.
I want to acknowledge the support of my brothers and sisters, because it is indeed a very strong political family and you would expect that. All of them and their partners have always been there, both on election days and throughout campaigns. Importantly for me, as a person who never wanted to be owned by any institution, my fundraising historically has been penny-ante and localised, and they have always been there for that—as were those nieces and nephews who could be supportive: Chris, Sarah, Aneta and Merryn.
I want to acknowledge a wide variety of people. I should say here that I am running three functions at restaurants to thank people.
Opposition members interjecting—
No, no—I am putting them on for the hundred-plus people who have helped me in my life. I cannot mention everyone today, so I will thank them in that fashion. But I do want to mention a certain group of people: Sue and David Rosen, Jo Smith, Peter Manning, Carol Lawson, Lennie and Denise Wiltshire, Greg Shaw, Paul Higgins, the Sidiropolous family and Durga Owen. They are people from outside my electorate who, wherever I have been a member, have come and supported me.
I will turn to my staff. My father thought I was an idiot for going to the office nearly every day when parliament was not sitting. He said, 'You're just a glorified social worker.' That might be the case, but my staff have been part of making sure that we were very effective social workers. Julie Bouloux and Lorraine Zaher were with me for about 25 years. Neither joined me when I moved to Werriwa. They left for personal reasons, one going to Queensland and the other thinking it would be better to get a job locally. Maurice Campbell has been with me for about 30 years. Although he is focused on political, Labor Party campaigns and those sorts of things, he has another important responsibility: he heads our gambling club, which we run out of the office. John Murphy, a friend and former colleague, said—in a rhetorical way—'Laurie, does that guy ever do any work besides running the betting syndicate?' He has been very successful. We have won about 14 years out of 15. Emily Zaiter, who is present here today, Linda Perrett, who started in 2005, and Steve Christou, who started in 2007 have been with me for very long periods of time.
As I said, three of my staff were with me for over 25 years. They were very good at public relations in the electorate. I can sometimes tell people where things are at and be a bit gruff when they do not have a very good case, but they have always been there to smooth things over. My attitude in life is that people would rather get a negative response the next day than wait around for a letter in three weeks time—and my staff have been part of that. They also provided support in running functions, keeping the diary and making sure that we were an effective electorate office.
In more recent times David Voltz, Alex Morrison and Alex Peck have done part-time work with me. I also want to acknowledge Vicki Meadows. Should Anne Stanley, our Labor candidate for Werriwa, be successful at this election, Vicki will have worked for four members of Werriwa, which is no mean feat. I have had long-term relationships with staff. It has been a great experience in my life, and we have had many social events outside of work.
As a glorified social worker, I always appreciate it when I am walking down a street in Ingleburn, and a Sierra Leonean guy walks up and says: 'Do you remember me from 15 years ago? This is my wife and my kids, who are here as a result of you.' I caught a taxi a few weeks ago and, as is typical of my whole life, a Lebanese taxi driver thanked me profusely for getting the department to change its mind with regard to a visitor visa for his brother. I have Colombian refugee friends who actually came here because of my help. I will never equal the member for Berowra's numbers, but there are hundreds and hundreds of people who owe their future in this country to my activities and those of my office.
I want to recognise the Parramatta immigration liaison team: Jan, Sam, Ian, Ruth, Robyn, Ralph, Tomas. It has been a tradition for them to come to our restaurant Christmas party every year. I have so much respect for them and thank them for their efforts. They are classic public servants—professional and always there. We had that relationship with Centrelink staff for many years. Under previous Labor and Liberal governments they were of great service to us. But I am sad to say that in recent years the staffing reality, where people are on the phone complaining about them for two hours, has led to a very sad deterioration of matters.
David Bitel, who went to law school with me, has always been there to provide me with free legal advice on cases—it is very sad that he is suffering from cancer at the moment; it is very serious—and he has been ever supportive.
I want briefly want to talk about the staff I had when I was parliamentary secretary for immigration. We did a few things. We had a national consultation with regard to settlement, and there were great outcomes from that. Whilst we have question marks about our refugee intake policies, we are acknowledged around the world as leaders in settlement policies. When the former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres—the former Prime Minister of Portugal—came to this country, he said: 'You have the best system in the world. You should be more vocal about it in international fora.'
I established a national advisory committee with regard to multiculturalism, with Andrew Demetrio at the head. Unfortunately, a rather ill-advised attitude in the Labor Party cabinet at the time knocked over our original suggestion. Peter Scanlon went on to spend millions of dollars of his own money to establish the Scanlon Foundation, which does tremendous work in multiculturalism. I advise every member of this House to look at the research that they have done on this about the attitudes of the Australian people. I am pleased to say that my adviser Carla Wilshire went on to become the director there. At that time Sarah Gestier-Garstang, Hanah Noura, Jodi Lewis, Nadine Clode, who were seconded to the office from the department, provided tremendous support. At that time we also had a new national statement on multiculturalism and rebranded Harmony Day. I also want to acknowledge my advisers in opposition and government—Warren Gardiner, Khaldoun Hajaj and Aisha Amjad—who were all a tremendous source of support.
I want to turn to my electorates. In 2010 my seat was wiped out and I, unfortunately, was denied the right, in practical terms, to contest a number of seats in preselections. I want to thank Julia Gillard for standing up to the factional powerbrokers and backroom boys who tried to wipe me out. It was tremendous loyalty at the time. She stood up to major forces in my party.
That was very difficult. Chris Hayes was an extremely popular member in Werriwa, and even as a result of the positive outcome of us retaining seats we still have the ridiculous practice that I move through four seats every morning and he moves through four seats in the opposite direction to actually represent our electorates. So, it was very difficult, very challenging, and I want to thank the people who gave me very early support. It was a daunting experience to go to the Macquarie golf links to meet Councillor Anne Stanley and John McLaughlin, the president and secretary of Werriwa FEC. But they soon got behind me, as did councillors Aaron Rule, Wal Glynn, Anoulack Chanthivong, Mark Pearce and Brad Parker and my brother-in-law, Paul Lynch, the state member for Liverpool. It was tremendous that we had that support from the party organisation, in very difficult circumstances.
That was a great outcome in terms of life experience. I have come to represent a very different electorate: large numbers of Centrelink issues, and disabilities, as the member opposite would acknowledge, are a major facet of that electorate, and there are tremendous local voluntary groups and workers. I do not think any other part of Sydney has so much commitment. I have come to learn that the semi-rural area still had an attitude that they raised all the money for charities, and they stressed at every event that 'the money stays here.' It was a very different experience. Internet access is a massive issue out there. Current housing development of semi-rural areas is basically becoming part of urban Sydney. As I said, it was a great experience.
Despite the rather difficult times of 2010, the party organisation had I think a very credible outcome in 2013 to hold the seat against massive spending by the Liberal Party, unprecedented in Werriwa. I also had a preselection, despite this image of being imposed and of how dreadful it was that I was imposed. We had a preselection ballot, and I got an East German, Walter-Ulbricht-style majority of 93 per cent in the preselection ballot! One of the great ironies in life—and I particularly appreciate it—is that after the result I had a phone call from Graham Richardson, and he said, 'Laurie, you and I have never been friends or associates, but I just want to say that you holding Werriwa is just unbelievable.' That was testimony to the party organisation.
I will turn to Reid. I had the second-longest term of its eight members—and I was one of six of the eight who never had a royal commission investigation into them! It is a high-NESB area—new arrivals, multiculturalism; that is the nature of it. I really enjoyed that. I have to say, Reid has a lot of Labor Party history. Percy Coleman, the federal secretary of the federal Labor Party, was defeated as a federal member by Joe Gander. Charlie Morgan was knocked over by Tom Uren in a preselection ballot and went on to get 17 per cent as an Independent, which is no mean feat. Regarding the party organisation there, I want to go back to Michael Hanna, who first persuaded me not to step aside for other people and let other people go into politics in the area. Apart from a few friendly words at my father's funeral, he has not spoken to me since I supported the first Iraq war. But I have not forgotten his support at the time. And then there were Bob Lipscombe, Alan Clarke, Therese Wood, Tony Latimore, Karen Fitzsimmons, Phil Gordon, Paul Garrard, Kim Yeadon and all of those, and, from more recent generations, Joanna Devine, Martin Byrne, Caroline Staples, and those people who really are not in leadership roles but worked their guts out at polling booths: Alex Petrov, Ian Pandilovski and Brian Long.
I have always had an attitude of massive attendance at branch meetings. I had 17 to 19 branches back in Reid. I tried to attend each of them every month. With Werriwa it is a lot easier as they have only six branches; it is great. I had an attitude that I did not want to be anyone's prisoner in politics, so that is why throughout life I really stressed that local connection and commitment. I saw other people's futures become basically controlled by even their enemies because they neglected the branches. I always believed that people who work for you on an election day deserve a lot.
Harry Jenkins, in his valedictory speech, spoke of 'exposing ourselves to what is different'. As the kind of kid who at primary school knew every world capital and prided myself that I knew more than every other kid in the school about the world, I, like Harry, am very thankful that I have had the opportunity through this parliament to learn a lot overseas: at the United Nations, to go to seminars there and workshops and to visit various NGOs; to visit Palestinian camps and to see the work of APHEDA; at the Thai border camps; in Lebanon to meet people across the political and religious spectrum and to see the bombing of South Lebanon; in Bangladesh, unfortunately having to be accompanied throughout by police and military, to visit the areas of the indigenous Jumma people; in Turkey, to meet with the leadership of the Alevi and the Kurdish communities; to see the malnutrition in Timor; to see refugee and immigration practices in virtually every European country; to see the attitude of Denmark on leadership and renewables; and to go to Hungary and understand the experiences of the Roma Gypsy minority and the discrimination that they face. It has been a tremendous opportunity to really learn more.
I want to now talk about—to borrow an American expression—'work across the aisles'. I have always appreciated the ability to work with people in other political parties on areas where I have firm beliefs. In my areas of foreign aid, development, women's focuses, human rights and international affairs there are a number of groups in this parliament: Parliamentarians for Global Action, Amnesty International, Australian Parliamentarians against the Death Penalty, and the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development. Obviously, on my side, there have been people like Senator Claire Moore, John Langmore, Maria Vamvakinou, Janelle Saffin, Duncan Kerr, Melissa Parke, Lisa Singh, Alan Griffin, Kelvin Thompson and many others, but I guess that is to be expected by me. But a very early experience that I found valuable—I was pushed into this by Warren Snowdon—was to head the parliamentarians in support of East Timor.
In that experience, I had significant cooperation from a number of members on the opposite side of this parliament and, more particularly, Democrats senator Vicki Bourne, who really was a tremendous activist on this issue. I think probably one of the most moving outcomes of that activity was when about 25 members of this parliament—mostly of the Labor Party Left, a few right-wingers, a few Democrats and a number of Liberals, including Russell Broadbent and Michael Atkinson; there were a few other Liberals—threw in $100 each so that I could go to the United Nations for the decolonisation hearings and to link up with parliamentarians from the former Portuguese colonies, Canada, Japan and the United States. I think that was great cooperation and support from all sides of this parliament. To work particularly with Julian McGauran and John Bradford—Philip Ruddock was at many of the meetings—on that issue was really appreciated.
I have worked with Sharman Stone around women's issues and development; with Jane Prentice and Richard Di Natale—unfortunately my retirement and his elevation to the leadership of the Greens has meant the end of that—to have a group on West Papua to ensure autonomy there, at least, and human rights; with Lyn Allison to go to Lebanon to see the destruction of the southern part through the Israeli bombing and the use of cluster bombs; and more recently, outside this parliament—as much as this activity is—with Greens members in New South Wales, John Kaye and Jamie Parker, around the question of Burma, going to a variety of ethnic groups, the Rohingyas and the National League for Democracy. It is tragic that this week John Kaye, the upper house member in New South Wales, passed away. A few weeks ago, at a function on the Burmese cause, I was sad to mention his illness to the 500 people who were there.
I want to also acknowledge the people outside this parliament who have faith in campaigning by MPs and who come to us about issues of human rights. I could mention many others, but Moustapha Hamed; Kabita Chakma; the Jubian family; Pat Walsh; Necla Dag; Dr Myint Cho; Tony Lamb, a former member; Varuni Bala; Selima Begum; and Hanni Gayed are all people who have come to me about human rights issues. They have faith that members getting off their backsides, being out there at rallies in the streets of the city, being outside embassies at demonstrations and raising issues in this parliament have a value. It has also been worthwhile to engage with many ambassadors and to converse with them about the issues and, in some cases, to be pushed by them on these human rights issues. Obviously, we all understand that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are also there to be supportive and to give us information and make sure these issues are taken up.
I want to recognise the staff of the parliament, most especially—I have to say—the library. It does not matter to members much these days with the internet and Wikipedia et cetera, but back when I first arrived I was asked about the differences between federal and state parliament, where I had been. I said that basically you lose contact to some degree with your electorate, being a federal member as opposed to a state member. You are not there as often. Secondly, the conviviality of the state parliament is far greater because you have known these people through your local party organisation in your state. The third thing was the abysmal research support that state parliamentarians in New South Wales had. Anyone that was half decent was grabbed by the incoming government to work in a ministerial office. To come down here and to have that tremendous support was so refreshing.
The parliamentary liaison officers, under Labor and Liberal governments, are sometimes in invidious situations in trying to be objective and give advice to people on the opposite side, but they have been tremendous. There are the dining room staff, the committee secretariats, the cleaners and the drivers. Indicative of this was a conversation I had with John Chapman—unfortunately, like Anthony Albanese, he is a devotee of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, but he has been a driver for 33 years. That really shows you that kind of thing.
In conclusion, I want to wish my party the best in what is going to be a very competitive election. I particularly hope that Councillor Anne Stanley succeeds me in Werriwa. She was selected in a preselection without challenge and has given tremendous service to the community both inside and outside the local council.
At my father's funeral, the renowned Australian journalist Mike Steketee asked me about an expression I used at that funeral. I said that my father's motto was 'know your value'. He asked me, 'What do you think it meant?' What it meant was, basically: do not be too self important and never be anyone's lackey. I hope that I have fulfilled that in my career, and I thank everyone for their attendance.
Politics is possibly the only profession for which no preparation is considered necessary. I said 'possibly'! I have clocked up 20 years as the member for Wills, and I thank the voters of Wills for the confidence that they have shown in me, in good times and in bad, and the support and the encouragement that they have given me. It has been a great honour and a privilege to represent them, but you have to know when to fold them, and for me that time has come.
I thank the Australian Labor Party for the support it has shown me for a very long time, including endorsing me to stand in the forthcoming election. I was first elected as a Labor representative in the Coburg council in 1981 and re-elected in 1982 and 1985. I was elected to the Victorian parliament in 1988 and re-elected in 1992. I was elected here first in 1996 and re-elected in 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013. So I have 35 years of representing the Labor Party at one level or another, from age 25 to age 60.
You know your time is up when your office rings the solicitor of a constituent to follow-up their case and the solicitor says: 'Does Kelvin remember going on the ducking school at Moonee Ponds West Primary School? Tell him I was the kid who ducked him.'
It would not have been possible without the great support of my family, friends, staff, colleagues and volunteer campaign workers, and I owe them a great debt of gratitude. I had a tough year personally last year, with a heart attack and the loss of a number of family members, and it is now time for me to attend to other priorities in life.
I want to thank my family for their great support. My partner, Kerry, is in the gallery. Kerry's love, good humour and support for me have been invaluable. Kerry said she is looking forward to divorcing the federal member for Wills and her new relationship with Kelvin Thomson, who in her words is 'a good bloke if only he'd spend more days at home'. I am told that quality time will include cooking lessons—now there is something to look forward to! I thank my son, Ben, and my daughter, Naomi. There are plenty of challenges involved in growing up in a political household, and I thank them for their patience and support. I am very proud of their perseverance in their chosen careers of aviation and animal welfare. I thank my father, Allan, OAM, a man of great character and integrity and a wonderful role model. He is also in the gallery, and that means a lot to me. My late mother, Dorothy—you know what mums are like—wanted me to become Prime Minister. So too did my grandmother on my father's side, but she was a branch secretary to Malcolm Fraser in the electorate of Wannon and thought I should be a Liberal Prime Minister. That would have been a number of bridges too far!
I thank my brothers, Lex and Daryl, and my sister, Jacqui, and their families for their support. I thank my office staff: Mimi Tamburrino, Tim Hamilton, who is here, Mark O'Brien, Julie Ryan, Cate Hall, Nosrat Hosseini and many others who have served over the past two decades. Mark had a stroke in the office just prior to Australia Day and has not been able to return to work, so we are all thinking of him. I ended up in the same hospital on the same day—naturally I took some files in for Mark to work on! Singling people out is a bad idea, but I got terrific value out of Robert Larocca and Anthony Cianflone, who both would be very good as MPs themselves. My office was a training ground for the Victorian Labor ministers Tony Robinson, Christine Campbell, John Eren and Luke Donnellan. Indeed, for a while when I was a state MP, I had the now member for Batman on my books. I am not sure that I can back up a claim that he worked for me, but he was there!
My staff could easily fill a valedictory speech themselves with their stories of constituents, such as the man, unlucky in love with four runaway brides, battling the immigration department to be allowed to sponsor a fifth. A couple of times my office was contacted by people asking us to draw up a will for them. When my staff demurred, the disappointed constituents said, 'But isn't Kelvin Thomson the member for Wills?'
I thank the Labor Party members and volunteers in Wills. They are an outstanding group of people who have always given much more than they ever got back. I thank the trade union movement—Ged Kearney and Dave Oliver at the ACTU, Ben Davis and his team at the AWU, Tony Sheldon and his team at the TWU, Glenn Thompson and the Manufacturing Workers' Union, Earl Setches at the plumbers, Dave Noonan at the CFMEU, the Institute of Marine and Power Engineers and many more. I thank the non-government organisations, who play such an important role in defending the public interest and reminding us that life is not all about money. I have worked closely with Animals Australia, the RSPCA, World Animal Protection, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Humane Society International, the WWF and many others. I acknowledge the work of the Accountability Round Table in defending and advancing high standards of ethics and integrity in public life. I also thank business leaders like Dick Smith, Robert Rio from the Rio Industrial Group, Hugh Middendorp from Middendorp Electrical, and Flight Centre, amongst others, for their encouragement, support and leadership. To all of you, thank you for the chance to do this.
I thank my colleagues both present and past for their company, their wise counsel and their friendship. You are a very talented group of people and the Australian political system is very much the better for your contribution and your efforts. The funniest person on this side of the House has been the member for Bruce. He specialises in blue-on-blue attacks. One of his targets was the Labor MP Dr Andrew Theophanous. When the House was amused to learn one question time that Dr Theophanous had been one of Peter Costello's lecturers at Monash, and Dr Theophanous volunteered that he had given Peter Costello high marks, Alan said, 'Yes, but he gave high marks to all the tall blondes.' And when Dr Theophanous did indeed marry a tall, blonde archaeologist, Alan said he was not so much a husband as a research project. To another colleague he apologised for not being able to attend his third wedding but said he would try very hard to get to the next one. Most of Alan's interjections are quite unfit to be recorded by Hansard, so he says them under his breath, but because I sit next to him I get to hear them. If only he were here more often. Today will be the last Griffin Watch. That is it. Perhaps the best interjection I ever heard—it was not here; it was in the Victorian parliament—was when then Premier Kennett developed an animosity to the Director of Public Prosecutions, Bernard Bongiorno, and was taking action to get rid of him, and the state member for Melbourne, Neil Cole, observed that the Premier was the only person in the world who thought that 'Bongiorno' meant goodbye!
I want to thank those opposite for their friendship also. People see us on the TV getting stuck into each other during question time and do not realise that we do a lot of constructive work in committees, on delegations and through multiparty parliamentary friendship groups, problem-solving and promoting worthwhile causes. The nature of Canberra necessarily brings people together from across the aisle. When I was in the Victorian parliament, you did not necessarily have much to do with opposing MPs, but here we have to travel to and from Canberra in the same planes and so on. One time a journalist talked me into bagging Petro Georgiou for giving very few speeches in the chamber. Karma decreed that, the next time that I travelled to Canberra, Petro and I would be seated together.
I want to thank the staff of Parliament House. It is a small city and it is a great place to work, particularly when parliament is not sitting. It is a bit like that efficient hospital with no patients in Yes, Minister. I thank the clerks, the Serjeant-at-Arms and the attendants. Luch was mentioned before. I think he has a twin or a clone, because everywhere you go he seems to be there. I thank Hansard and the Library, who provide professional and politically proper advice. I thank the Comcar drivers, the catering staff and the cleaners. I thank the outdoor staff. They keep the grounds in fantastic condition. As one MP who knows the difference between a Grevillea and an Eremophila, I have sometimes found the grounds a source of solitude and recovery after the mayhem and madness of question time.
I thank the MPs, senators and staff who have accompanied me on delegations and made them so entertaining. It will be a long time before I forget the look on the face of the OPEC official in Vienna, who was almost certainly wearing a real Rolex, when one of our senators took his watch off post briefing and said that it was an Australian custom to swap watches at the conclusion of a meeting! One time one of the border security people looked at my passport photo and said, 'Sir, are you well enough to travel?' On any delegation I went on, MPs and senators had very full itineraries and precious little time for sightseeing or relaxation. I am not sure I could say the same about all delegation secretaries. As soon as we got to one destination, our secretary went down to the beach, put on her bikini, spread herself out like a starfish and pretty much maintained that pose for the remainder of the delegation.
The parliamentary committee secretariats do great work. While I have served on many committees, I have put far and away my greatest effort into the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. It recently clocked up 20 years here too, and I am its longest serving chair and the only member to have been both chair and deputy chair. The treaties committee has done quite a lot of work on trade treaties. We have done a lot of work on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the TPPA, but we will not get to report on it before the parliament is dissolved, and it will fall to the next treaties committee to complete that task.
These days, everyone declares themselves to be in favour of free trade, but I wonder how many Australians are aware that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is about much more than tariffs and quotas. It contains so many provisions restricting governments in their migration, foreign ownership, copyright and so on—so many other policies—that it is a handcuff on future governments and the right of Australians to democratically determine their future. I have heard the TPPA described as standing for 'taking people's power away'. It is noteworthy that the three remaining candidates in the US presidential primaries, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, have all disowned the TPPA. Australia should certainly go no further down the path of ratifying this treaty until the US path becomes clear and, in the meantime, we should have a proper cost-benefit analysis carried out by the Productivity Commission. Members opposite regard Alfred Deakin and Sir Robert Menzies as their heroes—great Victorians they were, too—but I urge them to actually read what they said about the world, particularly about manufacturing. It is no good to invoke their names while trashing their legacy and their achievements.
People who know me know that I am not in the starry eyed, rose coloured glasses camp of politicians who say that the world is becoming a better place and that our best days are ahead of us. But I have worked as hard as I can to make the electorate of Wills a better place to live and to protect the good things about it.
One of my key objectives from the time I became a federal MP was to get our unemployment down from the terrible level of 20 per cent at the start of the 1990s—and it did come down too, right down to five per cent. But I never accepted that we should accept a degraded environment as the price of employment. In fact, I believed it was the other way around—the better we could make our environment the more working people would want to live here. So I supported local residents on issues with noise and fumes from places like the Essendon Airport and the Colonial chicken farm in Hadfield.
I wanted the public open spaces to be as attractive as they could be, so I fought successfully against proposals for freeways down creek valleys, like the F2 freeway reservation in the Merri Creek valley and the East West Link through Royal Park and the Moonee Ponds Creek. I fought successfully against the sale of public open space in the Moonee Ponds Creek valley, in areas like Moonee Boulevard and Pascoe Vale Road, and against selling public open space in the Merri Creek valley too. I set up Friends of Moonee Ponds Creek, which has done terrific work revegetating the Moonee Ponds Creek valley and establishing the Jacana wetlands. I actively supported Friends of Merri Creek and the Friends of Edgar's Creek, who have transformed these great open-space assets.
As early as my state parliament days I worked on getting the trucks off Pascoe Vale Road and getting rid of the Strathmore escarpment freeway reservation. I worked on maintaining bus services in Pascoe Vale South and cleaning up local railway stations, and I supported successful campaigns to stop the Upfield railway line from being closed by two different state Liberal governments. We were certainly on the right side of history there—the problem nowadays is that the carriages are full and people down the line cannot get on!
A critical component of living conditions is neighbourhood character and the planning rules. I have fought hard—although not as successfully as I would have wished— to give residents a genuine say in the character of their street and their community.
Education is crucial to our life chances. I supported the successful 'High school for Coburg' campaign. And I am proud to have been a member of a Labor government that put over $100 million into both primary and secondary school buildings in Wills, setting up our schools to offer quality education to the next generation and sparing us from the fate of trying to educate our children in the run-down, dilapidated buildings and classrooms which were thrown up hurriedly in the postwar years and were very much in need of renovation.
Beyond education, employment and environment, I have greatly enjoyed working with local people to build and strengthen the rich community life of Wills—its sporting clubs, RSLs and community organisations. In recent years I have held forums designed to shine a light on some of our darker corners and send a message that some things are just not okay. We had a forum on domestic violence, a forum after the Ford closure announcement, a forum about Sydney road safety, a forum after the killing of Jill Meagher and we had forums on the ice epidemic and on unemployment in Wills.
When I arrived here in 1996 I was young, enthusiastic, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed—as I see a number of you here are now. It is true! Many of my older colleagues were downcast by the comprehensive shellacking of the 1996 election which brought John Howard to power with a majority of basically 100 seats to 50. But I was more cheerful. I had taken a real risk in giving up a safe Labor seat in the Victorian parliament to campaign for a seat which we did not hold, having lost it to Independent Phil Cleary in 1992. So I was pretty pleased just to be here.
I admit that when I moved to the federal parliament in 1996 it was part of my political calculus that Victorian Labor—the so-called guilty party—was seriously discredited and destined for a long time in opposition. I was surprised that we were able to regain government just three years later in 1999. I also thought that federal Labor, despite the big loss in 1996, was in pretty good working order. So I was also surprised that it took us 11 years to regain government. But, having spent 15 years in opposition at state and federal levels, it was terrific to win in 2007, but I was not prepared for the selfishness and poor judgement which came from within both those Labor governments in the ensuing years. I was not prepared for the machinations, the leaking, the backgrounding and the lack of loyalty to colleagues, which was unworthy of us. It drowned out our achievements and let down our supporters. I was more than surprised by this; I was appalled. But I was not surprised—and neither was anyone else—at the verdict of the electorate on this self-indulgence in 2013. We learned some lessons the hard way during that time.
I became a shadow parliamentary secretary the year after I arrived and shadow Assistant Treasurer after the 1998 federal election, which we narrowly lost. One of my campaigns in that period was for minimum quarterly, rather than annual, superannuation guarantee payments, and it was good that the Howard government picked it up.
I thought the year 2000, with the Sydney Olympic Games, and that innocence we had before September 11 was a great time to be an Australian. The Olympic torch passed through Wills one Saturday morning, and I joined a large crowd waiting for it at the North Essendon Junction around 7 am. There were two pubs back then at the junction, and in a driveway next to one of them was an old white Holden with two young blokes asleep inside who had clearly put in an all-nighter next door. One of them woke up and got up on the bonnet to get a better view and started jumping up and down on it in an unsuccessful effort to rouse his sleeping mate, singing out, 'Wake up, Donger, you'll miss the parade!' I thought it was a great time to be an Australian.
Labor looked good in 2000 and 2001, off the back of the government's problems in implementing the GST, particularly the extra work for small business, but we made the mistake of thinking we would surf into government on this issue and became a small target, rolling out very little policy of consequence. If Tony Abbott had been in our shoes he would have promised to get rid of the GST, but we did not.
Into this vacuum sailed Tampa, and after the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001 the mood of the country changed and the government was returned. Australians abandoned their customary scepticism and irreverence about governments. They were genuinely horrified by Islamist terrorism and locked in behind the government and hoped it was up to the task of protecting them. Labor went through tough years of leadership instability and division over policy and strategy. During those years one of our colleagues died in tragic circumstances. Before he was even buried I was asked by a young aspirant whether I would have any objection to their taking his place. I said that was fine with me but it was not really my call—that they would have to ask the undertaker.
After 2001 I became shadow environment minister. A number of the key climate change policies I promoted in this role—ratification of the Kyoto protocol, an emissions trading scheme, and increasing the renewable energy target—were adopted as policy and later implemented when we came to government. I also pushed on issues like water for the Murray-Darling Basin and marine national parks. I had some success, but it did feel like hand-to-hand combat both within and outside the Labor Party.
We were defeated again in 2004, and I was not surprised to be moved from environment and was sufficiently worn down by the battles of the previous three years not to put up a fight over it. I was given regional development, amongst other things, and had a lot of fun exposing the regional rorts. I turned some of the regional rorts into poems and nursery rhymes and felt that I was making use of both the forensic and the more creative sides of my character.
When Kim Beazley returned to the leadership I was given the portfolios of public accountability and human services. I told Kim I would support his return to the leadership but that he needed to speak in language that ordinary people understood and could relate to. He replied that he was determined to be 'less prolix and verbose', and my head dropped a little. In retrospect I and the others who shifted our support to Kevin Rudd in 2006 may have done Kim a disservice. At the time I thought John Howard had his measure, but, looking back, perhaps the electorate would have been ready for change come 2007. And, looking back, I believe Kim would have made a better Prime Minister than either of his Labor successors.
Kevin Rudd made me shadow attorney-general. The biggest issue in this portfolio at the time was David Hicks. When he was first arrested there was very little sympathy for him in Australia, but after he had spent five years in Guantanamo Bay Australians were becoming restless. I promoted a two-word slogan in relation to him: fair trial. It was wrong to detain him indefinitely without trial and wrong not to allow him a trial before a real jury, not a military one.
In March 2007 my glorious career came to an abrupt dead end. In the political game of snakes and ladders, I hit the big snake. I was contacted by Kevin Rudd's office and advised that they had been told that I had written a reference for Tony Mokbel. I thought this was unlikely but naturally offered to check my office to see. After several hours of searching, my staff and I had found nothing and I was increasingly confident that it was a hoax, like the letter Ralph Willis produced in the 1996 election. But one of my staff eventually found the letter and brought my world crashing down. It is a tough business, politics. After I resigned as shadow Attorney-General I was depressed and miserable. But then I turned it around—and became miserable and depressed! It is said, 'Show me someone who hasn't made a mistake and I'll show you someone who hasn't done anything.' The important thing is to learn from your mistakes, and I sought to do that.
It is a great honour to be a member of the federal parliament, and I was determined not to waste it. I subscribe to the Edmund Burke view that we owe it to those who vote for us to tell them what we ourselves believe and try to add the value of our own experience rather than all the time simply parroting the party line. I also subscribe to the George Bernard Shaw view that, while reasonable people adapt themselves to suit the world, the unreasonable person insists on trying to adapt the world to suit them—therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable person. In that sense, I have been unreasonable for much of the past decade.
In 2013 I had the opportunity to be Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and later on Parliamentary Secretary for Schools, and for those opportunities I thank former Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd.
As a backbencher I have been a contributor to national policy debates about Australia's rapid population growth, the exploitation of migrant workers and international students, trade and the future of the manufacturing industry, animal welfare, industrial fishing by supertrawlers and more.
One thing I have been increasingly concerned about, and would spend more time on if I was doing it all over again, is the integrity of the political process itself. The recent revelations about the use of Panama by large corporates and powerful individuals to dodge tax and hide ill-gotten gains; the corruption in the oil industry revealed by the Unaoil revelations; the scandals in New South Wales, involving both sides of politics, over retail leases and coal tenements and illegal campaign donations by property developers—all of these things suggest to me that a concerted push to clean up the political system is needed. I have called before for a national independent commission against corruption, and it is an idea whose time has come. The Senate crossbenchers are right about this.
We should make campaign donation disclosures in real-time, so you have to disclose a donation on your website within, say, a week of receiving it. We should make political lobbying more transparent. The Queensland model is a good one. Ministers must publish their external diaries every month. Registered lobbyists must also publish their meetings with ministers. They must file on the Integrity Commissioner's website, no later than 15 days after the end of each month, information on every lobbying contact with a government or opposition representative.
The New South Wales ICAC has recommended that meetings and phone conversations with lobbyists be the subject of a written record, with the date, venue, duration, names of attendees, subject matter and meeting outcomes being disclosed. As ICAC put it in 2010:
Lack of transparency in the current lobbying regulatory system is a major corruption risk, and contributes significantly to public distrust.
The US requires public officials to disclose details of their appointment diaries in a timely manner.
One anticorruption measure which people may be surprised to hear me advocate for the return of is the defined benefit superannuation scheme for members of parliament. Labor should never have proposed its abolition, and the Howard government should not have taken the bait. It is not in the public interest for MPs and senators to be making decisions about issues where billions of dollars are involved—such as listing PBS items, communications infrastructure, Defence projects or road projects—when those MPs have no financial security and therefore a healthy interest in what work opportunities they will have after parliament. One day some of you younger MPs should get together across the chamber and put the old scheme back.
Some people will ask, 'What about the double-dipping where an MP gets the superannuation and goes to work for a large foreign corporation anyway?' I agree that that is an issue, and I would cheerfully support more robust measures by way of cooling-off periods for former ministers, for example. This is also an issue for public servants, by the way.
If members opposite should read more Deakin and Menzies, members on this side should read more Gough Whitlam. They do those surveys asking, 'Who has been our best Prime Minister?'
The correct answer is Gough. His towering intellect and basic decency changed Australia unquestionably for the better. The Prime Minister says there has never been a more exciting time to be an Australian. Yes, there has: 1972 to 1975, by a mile. Frankly, with the greatest of respect to Gough's successors on both sides of the fence, it has been all downhill since then. He delivered free postsecondary education, and we should never have let that achievement go. Bruce Billson, the member for Dunkley, said that we risk being the first generation to fail to live up to Australia's great promise that each generation will have it better than the one before. That was a point reinforced today by the member for Chisholm.
Many of you know that I think that the greatest driver of this failure is rapid population growth. I think this is true both globally and nationally. Globally, there are people still alive who were born into a world of two billion people, when we are now over seven billion and headed for nine billion to 10 million mid-century, with no credible sign of slowing down. A key driver of the shocking spectre of terrorism, of millions of boat people, of endless wars, is conflict over access to scarce resources—too many people and not enough arable land, water and food to go around. We all need to get serious, through the UN and every other relevant global avenue at our disposal, about reducing the global birthrate.
As to the ongoing asylum seeker crisis in Europe, the United States, Australia and beyond, the countries of the United Nations should together require the permanent members of the UN Security Council to provide refugee camps on their own soil that could accommodate all those who flee conflict zones and last for at least the duration of the conflict. That would act as a real incentive to the UN Security Council permanent members to resolve conflicts, rather than letting them fester for years, and encourage them to do a lot more to stop conflicts breaking out in the first place. The UN, its Security Council and its High Commissioner for Refugees have conspicuously failed to do what they were set up to do—prevent conflict and make the world safe for everyone. Real power resides with the permanent members of the Security Council, and they should be made to carry out the role for which they were given this power and made accountable for their decades of failure.
Nationally, for the last decade we have been growing at a rate of a million every three years. People who think that Australia is sparsely populated are ecologically illiterate. They do not realise that most of Australia is desert and uninhabitable, except at quite unsustainable levels of energy and water use. Rapid population growth is undermining the future of the next generations—fitting them up with job insecurity, housing unaffordability and student debt.
If we shy away from slowing down Australia's rapid population growth, and the media keep giving us policy advice from economists rather than ecologists, we will fail the next generation. We will pass on to them an unworthy legacy. We also risk an uprising by those we have let down. It is all very well for mainstream political forces to have a gentlemen's agreement that some issues are not to be touched, but nature abhors a vacuum. The commentators can look down their noses at Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders or UKIP or the push for a Brexit or Jeremy Corbyn or the European populist antimigration parties, but, if you refuse to pay attention to what voters want, if you dismiss the voters as ignorant or rednecks, you take a real risk. It is better to be less greedy and more willing to give the voters what they want.
We have recently remembered 101 years since Anzac Day at Gallipoli. We know that each generation has its own battles to fight, its own challenges to confront. In the face of the global threats and challenges facing us now, it is easy for people to be passive, throwing their hands up in the air and saying, 'What can I achieve? The challenge is so massive and I am but one person.' But this was precisely the situation facing the Anzacs at Gallipoli. The courage and character they showed back then is not some museum piece to be taken down, dusted off and admired once a year and then put back on the shelf. It should inspire us to fight the battles of our own time.
Endeavour was of course the name of the ship Captain James Cook sailed in in his voyage of discovery to the Southern Hemisphere in 1770, and just this week the Endeavour itself was apparently rediscovered off Rhode Island after going missing in the 18th century. If we can rediscover the Endeavour after 200 years, surely there is still some endeavour waiting to be discovered in each of us.
It is said that a politician thinks about the next election, whereas a statesman thinks about the next generation. Somewhat immodestly then, I try to think about the next generation. But if I keep talking, some of you will conclude that I am intending to speak until the arrival of my audience, so I will stop now. It has been extraordinary privilege and, again, I thank everyone who has contributed to either giving me this opportunity or sharing the journey. I wish all of you, including my prospective successor, Peter Khalil, all the best for the future.
Thank you very much, Deputy Speaker Vasta. It is certainly good to see you in the chair again. I rise today to speak on the address-in-reply. This debate gives me an opportunity to update the House and my constituents of Hinkler on what has been achieved and what is in the pipeline.
There has been a strong flow of infrastructure funding throughout the Hinkler electorate across a wide range of assets. Just last week, I announced $390,000 for the Black Spot Program to fix three problem intersections in Bundaberg. Two of the intersections are right beside local schools, Bundaberg South State School—which incidentally will celebrate its 120th anniversary on 21 May—and Bundaberg East State School. Work at these sites will see both intersections upgraded, bike lanes added and pedestrian facilities improved. Residents in Bundaberg know firsthand how notorious these locations are. Accidents take huge tolls on families, on our communities and on the economy. I am delighted to see these upgrades approved.
Since June 2014, the Hinkler electorate has received $1,912,348 towards black spot funding. This includes road intersections in not only Bundaberg but Burnett Heads, Nikenbah and Pialba. The coalition government has committed $5 million to the Black Spot Program until 2018-19—and got an improvement on Tuesday night, as I recall. The Black Spot Program is improving road safety and infrastructure across country. The program allows anyone to make a submission for a safety upgrade to a road or intersection in their local area, and I encourage the residents of Hinkler to get online and submit any roads that they think are dangerous. According to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, there were 1,242 road deaths in Australia in the 12 months to February 2016. This is far too many and we must continue to campaign to make our roads safer.
Continuing on the theme of roads, the road widening works on a 2½ kilometre section of the Bruce Highway near Pig Creek and Little Pig Creek, between Childers and Torbanlea, is progressing very well: the $3.4 million road widening works will help improve road safety on this part of the Bruce Highway and is part of the Australian and Queensland governments' $8½ billion dollar program of works to upgrade the Bruce Highway. To date, there has been $29.7 million in upgrades on the Bruce Highway in my electorate of Hinkler. There has been $8 million worth of upgrades to the three intersections near Childers, completed in July 2016; $6 million for an overtaking lane north of Howard, which was completed in August 2014; $4.5 million for widening a four-kilometre stretch near Adies Road at Apple Tree Creek, which was completed in July 2014; $7.1 million for the widening of the highway for 2.2 kilometres near Wongi State Forest, south of Torbanlea, which was completed in December 2015; and $700,000 for the widening of a seven-kilometre stretch Booyal, which commenced in February 2016.
There are other safety improvements scheduled for the Hinkler stretch of the Bruce Highway in the 2016-17 financial year as well. Significant work is being done on sections to the north and south of my electorate, which will directly benefit Hinkler motorists. Motorists' safety, freight route reliability and emergency accessibility are essential for the people who live, work and run businesses in regional Queensland, as well as the tourists and visitors that help boost our local economies.
The coalition government is committed to making not only the Bruce Highway but also local regional roads safe. Another successful regional infrastructure program is the Capital Grants Program. Last month, I had the great pleasure of hosting the Minister for Education and Training, Senator the Hon. Simon Birmingham, in my electorate as we opened new science facilities at St James Lutheran College in Hervey Bay. The school received a $650,000 grant through the Capital Grants Program, and the facilities that they have built are absolutely first-class. When Senator Birmingham spoke to the students, teachers and school community, he said he hoped a future great Australian breakthrough would be produced by a student inspired by the new science facilities. And, really, absolutely anything is possible.
Another school in my electorate, St Luke's Anglican School in Bundaberg, was also the recipient of $500,000 in the Capital Grants Program.