Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Mr Deputy Speaker, on indulgence, I am humbled and more than a little surprised to stand here to make my final speech after 15 years in this place, because in 2004, when I was elected, it would have seemed pretty unlikely that I would have been given the tremendous opportunity to represent Stirling for the past 15 years.
In 2004, I had recently returned to Perth and I was asked by the Liberal Party to assist our then candidate for Stirling, which was a Labor-held seat, and particularly to help him with his media profile. That didn't turn out to be such a challenging job, because he got a lot of unwanted media attention and was ultimately forced to resign, leaving the Liberal Party campaign in shambles. All hope of winning the seat had essentially evaporated, but the party wanted to change the story as quickly as possible by installing a new candidate and, after a short conversation in head office, they decided that they would ask me. The first I knew of this was when I got a call from the then senior vice-president of the Liberal Party. I won't name him, but I suspect you can guess. He said: 'Michael, as the senior vice-president of the Liberal Party, I think you should do this, but, as a friend, I think you would be mad.' But I politely ignored this advice, won the preselection against five other candidates and then set about campaigning.
At the time I was only 31—probably not ready for such a demanding role—but the great thing was that we didn't know that we couldn't win. In hindsight, and with what I would now consider to be blindingly obvious insight, the seat wasn't really on the radar as winnable, and that should have been completely obvious to me when I came to Canberra and waited three days just to get a photograph with the then Prime Minister, John Howard. I was blessed at the time, though, to have the greatest campaign team that any candidate could have wished for. People that have been by my side for the past 15 years and are now in the gallery—and some of them are even in the chamber today. I want to acknowledge them later in the speech, but I think few members in the history of this House have been as fortunate as I have been with my campaign teams. That campaign in 2004 was a great experience. Like most new candidates, we didn't have a lot of anything—apart from an enormous amount of free advice—but we never missed an opportunity even when we had very little idea about what we were doing. My campaign chairman, John Franklin—and I will say more about him later—had a great saying when we were faced with things we weren't sure we could pull off: 'If it's worth doing, it's worth doing badly!' With that in mind, we gave everything a go. A couple of youngish guys worked on my campaign at the time and they've gone on to serve with me in both houses—Mathias Cormann, Dean Smith and Christian Porter. With a lot of energy and a lot of effort, over time, we built a fantastic campaign and, as success attracted success, we went on to get a swing of over seven per cent and won by 3,000 votes.
I then got the privilege, afforded to very few Australians, to represent their community in this place. I was always mindful that Stirling was a marginal seat, and we always worked hard to keep on winning—no more so than in 2007 when Labor, and everyone else, thought they would win the seat back with a star candidate. But again we worked hard and got the right result, even though it was a tough election for the Liberal Party and most other members of the class of 2004 were voted out. I remember quite distinctly that on polling day in 2007 The West Australian, the local paper, published on its front page a poll from the Stirling seat that said we were going to lose, which was very unwelcome news to wake up to on polling day. But again we overcame the odds and we managed to maintain our slim margin at that election.
Since being elected in 2004, it's been an immense privilege for me to serve the people of Stirling, the Liberal Party and Australia. As Minister for Justice from 2013 to the end of 2017, I worked very closely with our law enforcement agencies to help make Australia a safer and more secure nation. There is much that I am proud of following my time at the helm with justice and, later on, counterterrorism. That was a time when Australia was faced with a significant deterioration in the international security environment that coincided with the creation and rise of the so-called Islamic State that quickly took over large parts of Syria and Iraq. This energised the existing ideology of radical Islamic terrorism and incited a small group of Australians to initially join them in the Middle East and then ultimately remain in Australia and look for ways to kill and maim other Australians.
I don't think it's really well understood during that time that, in Australia, we avoided 14 significant terrorist attacks because they were stopped by our authorities. This occurred primarily because of the great work of our agencies. But they were able to achieve it because of the changes that we made to our legal regime that gave them the powers, backed up by the resources, to do the job. Counterterrorism funding increased substantially during this time. And we strengthened our intelligence capabilities, passing legislation to strengthen our ability to investigate, monitor, arrest and prosecute homegrown extremists and returning foreign fighters. Much of this was controversial at the time. But our efforts led the world, and their worth has been well and truly proven by the results.
There are also other things that I'm very proud of from my time in that ministry. We strengthened the powers of AUSTRAC, our anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing agency, to crack down on money laundering and terrorism financing, and introduced laws to tackle foreign bribery and corporate crime. We established the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to combine the intelligence, information and research capabilities of the Australian Crime Commission, CrimTrac and the Australian Institute of Criminology into a single agency. The creation of this new agency was a result of painstaking and difficult negotiations with the states and territories and we had to be exceptionally tenacious to finally deliver that.
We delivered a national unexplained wealth regime to take the profit motive out of organised crime. Again, I had to work very closely with state and territory counterparts to prioritise this scheme, noting that organised criminals do not respect state and territory boundaries. Now we have a national cooperative scheme targeting illegitimate wealth which has given our law enforcement agencies greater powers to seize criminal assets. We implemented Carly's Law to crack down on online child sex predators and we put in place the biggest crackdown on child sex tourism ever by banning passports for all registered child sex offenders.
The National Firearms Amnesty, which I oversaw, was an extraordinary success, with more than 57,000 firearms being handed in across Australia. Our country is a safer place as a result. As minister, I strengthened the National Firearms Agreement after very difficult and protracted negotiations with the states and territories. This built on one of the proudest legacies from the Howard government. My first job in politics was with Gary Humphries, who was then the ACT police minister, and I saw firsthand in 1996 how difficult it was to implement the NFA even here in Canberra. When you are Prime Minister—as John Howard was at the time—and people tell you that the policy you are championing will make you one of Australia's shortest-serving leaders but you do it anyway, because you know it's the right thing to do, it shows real leadership. There is no doubt that those laws that make it virtually impossible for somebody to get high-powered weapons in Australia have made an enormous contribution to our success against would-be terrorists and in avoiding the horror we have seen of attacks overseas.
We also set up the National Anti-Gang Squad to combat organised crime and bikie gangs. We made significant inroads towards stopping the flow of illicit drugs, with record seizures and record arrests. We implemented Taskforce Blaze, a joint task force with Chinese authorities that has helped stem the flow of illicit drugs reaching our shores. We unlocked the Proceeds of Crime Account to ensure that these funds went towards fighting crime. I was also proud to provide the Australian Federal Police with a record $321 million funding injection, which was then the largest investment in their domestic capability in a decade.
During this time, I also had responsibility for emergency management and got to see the extraordinary resilience of many Australians facing the most devastating circumstances that people can endure—cyclones, fires and floods. We worked hard during every natural disaster to make sure that people affected got the best possible support they could from their federal government.
In human services and digital transformation, we have gone about the steady and methodical work of delivering the services that Australians need and want. I've tried to focus on one single objective, and that is to improve service delivery. New technologies provide us with a wonderful opportunity to do this, and that is why the two portfolios of human services and digital transformation were rightly put together.
In the last financial year, we saw 736 million self-service claims lodged online—meaning each was completed at a time and a place that suited the customer. We have driven a further uptake of digital Medicare claims, almost all of which are now completed online. Medicare is a great example of government services working best when they are completely seamless and easy to use. We have made strong inroads in our efforts to improve our phone service times and processing times for claims. We have done this by employing an extra 2,750 staff to ensure that the services we deliver are there for those who need them. We've worked across government to implement the National Redress Scheme and the childcare subsidy, to make changes to the farm household allowance and to progressively enable online services for child support customers.
As digital transformation minister, I was pleased to release our first digital transformation strategy and road map for Australia's digital future. We are already world leaders, and the strategy outlines our plans to make sure this remains the case out to 2025. We want digital services for the benefit of all Australians so that government is easy to deal with, eliminating the need to deal with multiple agencies or multiple layers of government.
In a world where productivity gains are harder and harder to come by, technological advances are perhaps some of the best opportunities we have to do more with less. In this portfolio, I've had the opportunity to work with many Australians who are at the cutting edge of new technologies. I also, for the first time, brought every state and territory minister together in the Australian Digital Council to make sure that every jurisdiction around the country was working together.
We are also harnessing the power of data to improve services and make better and faster decisions. Currently, the vast bulk of information that government has sits idle like a vast untapped resource. Liberating this information will provide untold insights into policy design and make what we do here better by providing us with more accurate evidence of what works and what doesn't. We have started establishing a new and better regime for us to share this data which has the potential to revolutionise government and provide significantly better policy results for all Australians. We can also use this data in conjunction with new technology to provide tailored services to our customers.
During my time as minister, I've been proud to be part of a very effective coalition government that has a good story to tell. We've cut taxes. We've undertaken the biggest infrastructure spend in our nation's history. We've made our country safer and more secure. We've brought integrity back to our borders by stopping the boats. And we've delivered a budget surplus, Australia's first in over a decade. This government's plan for a stronger economy is working, and last night's budget is evidence of that.
I'm pleased and proud that this coalition government has fixed the historical anomaly of the unfair GST distribution that has held my home state of Western Australia at a disadvantage for far too long. Scott Morrison as Treasurer and then as Prime Minister got this done and fixed it, and the people of Western Australia will benefit from this in the years and decades to come.
Of course, you can't have served as a minister without being a local member first. It's been a great joy for me to work with the people of Stirling as their local representative. I've had the pleasure of being able to announce funding for local sporting clubs, community groups and volunteer groups. They are the heart and soul of our communities and supporting them on behalf of the government has been one of the most satisfying and rewarding parts of this job. Most recently we've been able to deliver $100 million in extra new funding for congestion-busting measures like the Stephenson highway extension, making the Stirling City Centre possible and widening of the Mitchell Freeway through Stirling.
I think a lot of members making their final speech tend to go back to the first speech that they made, and I made mine in 2004. At that time I was given the compliment of seconding the address in reply in recognition that we had won our seat against pretty tough odds. I talked about a group of people that Robert Menzies called the 'forgotten people'. Decent and hardworking, the only time that they get a chance to seriously engage in politics is at the ballot box every three years. That's because they are busy raising a family, earning a living and trying to balance the family budget every month. They don't have time to lobby their MP or to go to a protest. These families might own a small business. They might have both parents working whilst juggling children. They pay their bills, school fees and taxes. They have a right to expect that every hard-earned dollar they pay to the government is spent with the care that they would have spent it with. These are the people that the Liberal Party must continue to champion. That always means blocking out the noise from those who have the time and resources to shout the loudest.
We are very lucky in Australia to have the system of government that we do, and it does concern me that when many people look at our democracy they don't always feel that. Australia is a very successful country and this has happened in conjunction with a government that is very much a part of that success.
I will continue to work for the Liberal Party and the causes we hold dear, particularly through this election year but also beyond. I'm deeply committed to seeing that Vince Connelly, the Liberal candidate for Stirling, retains my seat.
I would like to thank the party members and branches in Stirling for supporting me as the party's representative. I would like to think Liberal Party leaders Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison, who placed their faith in me by appointing me to the ministry. I'd like to thank ministerial and party colleagues, and I thank my wonderful staff, who have served me so well over the years. I already mentioned some friends I've had from WA who have subsequently joined me in the House, but I also wanted to single out a couple of extra people, Steve Ciobo and Peter Dutton, who have been great mates of mine since 2004 and who have made the good times better and the bad times more bearable. You know a lot of people in these jobs, but everyone needs a few good and reliable friends.
In my ministerial office, I was very well served by hugely capable people, many of whom I'm very pleased have been able to join me today. My office was overseen by three exceptionally good chiefs of staff—Peter Soros, Sarah Wood and now Adrian Barrett. In my electorate office, my staff have done an exceptional job in making sure that people who come to my office for help are appropriately supported. Jackie, Francois, Caitlin and Lachlan will continue to do that job right up until the election.
I want to turn to my own campaign team. I have been exceptionally blessed to have received incredible support over the years but I want to single out two people in particular who are in the gallery today who have been rocks on the campaign team since even before I was preselected. Fay Duda has been by my side literally before I was preselected and she continues to support me even though she currently has considerable responsibilities as the president of the Western Australian Liberal Party. John Franklin came on board as my campaign chair in 2004 and subsequently ran five successful election campaigns. I'm deeply grateful for the enormous effort that he has put in over 15 years. He can now finally relax a bit at this coming election, after a job well done. In my 15 years in this job I've always relied on John for sensible advice about any big decisions, including the one not to re-contest this time. I would never have been elected or continued to have won the seat without the efforts of John and Fay and I'm very pleased they've been able to come along for this speech today.
Most importantly, I'd like to thank my own family. My parents, Peter and Patricia, have been with me every step of the way. They've done what they've always done, which was to provide me with unlimited support throughout my life. Mum remains particularly outraged when anyone has dared to criticise me in the press! I got used to it after 15 years, but Mum never did. Thank God she is not on Twitter!
My sisters, Cath and Jenny, and Cath's kids, Grace and Seb, are here. They've also been of great support to me over the years. I need to thank my wife Georgina and our family: William, Theo, Hugo and our newest baby, Rupert. Georgina has been long-suffering and has basically raised our kids as a single mum. I think it is fair to say that her patience with this job has well and truly expired. I've been very lucky to have had that level of support and I'd like to say how much I love her and thank her for everything she has put up with. For my boys, I would have loved for them to be here today, but the logistics of bringing four boys under eight across the country have proved to be too difficult. Indeed, after a few hours on the plane it looks like Motley Crue are on tour. I look forward to spending more time with them now. When I have been called upon to make hard decisions in this job or to do difficult things, I would always try to make the right call by thinking that I must make decisions that they will be proud of when they are older and have a better understanding of how the world works.
Finally, and most importantly, I would like to thank the people of Stirling for placing their confidence in me at five successive elections. It's been the greatest honour of my life to represent my part of Perth in a community and a city that I love. Thank you.
Mr Deputy Speaker, on indulgence: today I have the privilege of giving my last speech in the House of Representatives. Some very good members who lose their seat at election time never get this chance. Thus is the nature of politics. I wish to speak a little about our nation, about the electorate I have represented and then about some personal matters.
I have given 10 years of my life to the service of regional Australia, first as the vice president and then the president of the Victorian Farmers Federation and then as the federal member for Mallee. When I started, I couldn't even tie a tie. I remember offering what inadequate support I could to communities in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires as they grappled with the loss of livelihoods and loved ones. I assisted and fought for communities destroyed later by floods and have always defended hardworking rural Australians, who contribute so much to our culture, environment and economy and who often don't get adequate services in return.
I have always said that parliament is made up of less-than-perfect people governing less-than-perfect people. I mentioned Theodore Roosevelt in my first speech in this chamber, arguably one of the greatest presidents of the United States of America. Later in life, when reflecting upon his time as president, Roosevelt was reported to have said that he got it right about 50 per cent of the time. I don't know if I got it right 50 per cent of the time, but I've always tried to listen to both sides of any debate and make a considered judgement at that time.
I am proud of the fact that, during my six years in office, I have never been thrown out of this chamber. Some members appear to think that being thrown out is something to be proud of—there's still time! I would remind them that the children of Australia are watching and they expect and deserve better. This is a place for passion, however. The battle for ideas and the future direction of our country should be a place for rigorous debate—debate and then compromise, because we must govern for a result for everyone. I take personal satisfaction in the fact that I have friends on all sides of the political spectrum. When I was chair of the House of Representatives environment and energy committee, I oversaw a report into how to future-build Australia's electricity grid and reached a consensus report with the member for Melbourne, the member for Hughes and the member for Shortland—Liberal, National, Labor and Greens agreeing on energy policy.
I believe there are some areas of national policy that still need to be addressed. I remain concerned about the level of fuel reserve Australia holds for Defence. I have always felt uneasy about a ticketing-system approach to guarantee fuel supply if we encounter another major conflict. The defence of the Australian people is the most important role of the Australian parliament, and a military without enough fuel ceases to be effective.
I have always held to the belief that the resources of the Commonwealth are the wealth of the common people. The east coast of Australia should have a 15 per cent natural gas reservation policy, such as is implemented currently in Western Australia. Access to natural gas at a lower cost would fundamentally lower electricity prices and, due to the instant nature of gas generators, would allow for more renewable energy to reliably come onto our electricity grid.
The two essential elements for Australian people to prosper are the ability to get a job and to achieve homeownership. I am proud of our government for its strong focus on getting the economic settings right for job creation. In my electorate, the opportunities and jobs that have come through international trade agreements have produced a confidence that is very visible. We must reward those who take a risk and who get out of bed early and work harder than those who don't. A country is only wealthy when its citizens, through their private endeavours, become wealthy.
I do, however, remain concerned about the credit squeeze and the reluctance of banks to back families to buy a modest first home. There are many in my community whose rental payments exceed what their mortgage repayments would be if they were able to access finance. I believe that, if a family or an individual has a perfect three-year rental history, then this should reduce the initial deposit required to access finance. Getting Australians into homeownership sooner is the best way to ensure financial stability for our country.
I have always been a strong and forceful advocate for Australia's aid budget. I am disappointed that it was reduced from $5 billion annually to $3.8 billion before being increased to $4 billion. To many Australians this seems like a lot of money, but, put in context that the federal government's expenditure on all projects is $470 billion or thereabouts annually, our aid budget is less than one per cent of total expenditure. When I talk about our aid being used as medicine for children, microfinance for women and girls in developing countries, agricultural information exchange so people can grow their own food, law and order assistance so there is increased security, and food parcels so people don't starve and they stay in their own countries instead of joining the millions on the move seeking refuge, people tend to grasp why I have a passion for this area. I have refused to allow Australian aid to be Left or Right in politics. This is about who we are as a nation—a generous, compassionate people who believe that a fair go extends to all citizens of the world, not just Australians. Whatever we spend in this area must be done wisely, but we must celebrate and be proud of Australia's contribution to the poorer people of the world.
Whilst I come to Canberra, I prefer the sweeping wheat fields of the Wimmera-Mallee and the people who live there. I will miss being an advocate of the good people who live in these communities. In many ways, a member of parliament is their last line of defence when the system has failed them. My office staff and I often assisted with Centrelink, immigration and other personal problems. The best part of the job is being out in the electorate encouraging, assisting and gaining their ideas and bringing them back here. Australia-wide intervention orders for victims of family violence, Safe Haven Enterprise visas for refugees to live and work in the country and free continuous glucose monitors for children with type 1 diabetes are all policy ideas that came from the Wimmera-Mallee and are now national initiatives.
We have addressed many of the mobile phone blackspots across the electorate so people can run first-world businesses as well as feel connected and safe. We have three new headspace youth mental health facilities to support children; a cancer centre in Horsham; an irradiation bunker for cancer sufferers to be built in Mildura; better programs around attracting and training doctors for our regions; more money for roads, rail and bridges; a weather radar; new sports and community infrastructure under planning; and construction right across the Wimmera-Mallee. We're now into our second billion dollars of federal funding into our communities in the time that I've been their federal member. We now have modernised water infrastructure and a sense of prosperity and optimism that our communities haven't seen in a long time, and substantially more money going into the education of our children.
I took the view that I would work constructively with community groups, mayors and council CEOs in all 12 local government areas across the Wimmera-Mallee. I always had their list of priorities and projects. My office would use this as the basis to advocate for funding to ministers, and often we were successful. I thank those ministers for putting up with my painful advocacy and persistence. I have always maintained that, when each level of government—local, state and federal—works professionally together, we get the best outcome. I want to personally thank them for their cooperation and friendship.
I would often smile to myself when some energetic character on social media, often hiding under the cowardly banner of anonymity, would write, 'Broad doesn't do anything.' I would think to myself, 'Imagine if it was just me,' for I often had between seven and 10 staff working with me, and they all worked incredibly hard. I think I can speak on behalf of all members of this chamber when I say that the dedication of all our staff is truly amazing. Yours is a service to the people of Australia.
I have been so privileged to have such quality people in my team, often arguing furiously against my views on some issues—sometimes even changing my mind—but always loyal to serving the people who live in the Wimmera and the Mallee. Thank you so much. I want to pay particular attention to my chief of staff, who's in the gallery, Tracey Mooney. You are admired by all for your courage, loved by all for your decency and respected by all for your professionalism. Your dedication to me and Rachel is undeserved but greatly appreciated. Thank you, Tracey.
To the clerks and attendants of the parliament, to security and the Commonwealth car drivers: thank you for your service. There is a dignity maintained in this place by your presence and your conduct.
Now to my beautiful Isabelle. Upon telling my daughter that I would no longer be the federal member for Mallee, her first and instant reaction was, 'Yes! You'll be home.' Isabelle, I missed the first six years of your life through foster system and the last four through politics; I'm not going to miss any more.
It was said to me recently that, at the end of everyone's professional life, we each get to go to our place of work, pack up our things, put them in a box—I've done that; it all fitted in one box, actually!—and then to walk into our house and either find children who are estranged from us and a house that is empty, or a house with a welcoming family and a partner who still loves us, and this is when we can measure success.
My story is a story of redemption and grace. I look forward to living out many chapters ahead with my wonderful wife, who's in the gallery—long-suffering and very forgiving—and our daughter.
It has been an amazing privilege to serve the people of the Wimmera-Mallee and the Australian people.