Thursday, 4 April 2019
Well, it seems like only yesterday, although it was six years ago, that I stood right there and made my first speech in this place. Time flies when you're having fun—and when you're having a horrible time. It's been a hell of a journey. I'd only been to Canberra once before being elected as a federal member of parliament. That was in 1982 for my year 6 school excursion from St Pat's at Strathfield. To say I didn't have a political background is probably the understatement of anyone sitting in this place. It was a very, very steep learning curve. I remember walking into my office and the first thing I looked for was a fridge. After all, I am the son of a publican and the grandson of a publican. I found the bar fridge there. You could, deadset, only fit six stubbies in it, and I thought, 'This isn't going to be good enough.' So I jumped in the car and headed off to Harvey Norman, locally here in Canberra, and I bought a massive fridge.
I was standing at the checkout, and the lady said, 'Would you like it delivered?' I said, 'Yes, please.' She said, 'Where to?' and I said, 'Parliament House.' She said, 'Whereabouts in Parliament House?' I said, 'That's a very good question.' So I Googled how to ring Parliament House. I rang the switch and I said, 'If I were to have a fridge delivered there, where would I get it delivered to?' She said, 'The loading dock.' I said, 'Okay. How do I get to the loading dock?' and she said, 'I can put you through.' So I spoke to the gentleman at the loading dock and said, 'Mate, I'm going to have a fridge delivered there this afternoon. I'm in RG-83. How do I arrange to get it moved to that office?' He said, 'Mate, I take the deliveries here but, once it lands on the loading dock, it's your responsibility.' I said, 'Well, have you got something I can put it on?' He said, 'We've got a trolley.' If I had a dollar for every fridge I've moved around in my life, I could retire tomorrow.
The first time I ran into Canberra staff—the amazing staff in Parliament House—was in the basement. I don't know if any of you've been down in the basement. It is a citadel. There are thousands of people running around the place. I went down to the loading dock, got a trolley, put the fridge on the trolley, manoeuvred down the corridor, put it in the lift, came upstairs, and I ran into Alan. Alan said to me: 'What are you doing?' I said, 'Mate, these fridges here, they're crap. I need a fridge that can handle some grog.' He said, 'Right you are. Are you okay? Can I give you a hand?' I said, 'No, I'm sweet.' I moved the fridge in, and that fridge in RG 83—that office, RG 83—became—
A government member: You didn't leave it there?
I didn't leave it there. It became the social centre of that first term. For the class of 2013, it was right opposite the party room. In other words, I brought being a publican to Canberra—something I'm so, so proud of.
When elected I only owned one suit. It was charcoal, because that was a blended colour. Why? Because I could wear it to weddings and funerals. I only had a couple of ties. In 23 years of working in my family's business, I never wore a tie. Why? Because in a punch-up, they're deadly—you grab them, they pull them down, it's uppercut central. That's where I come from. It's for that reason, with that zero background, that I want to start tonight by thanking the amazing staff here at Parliament House. I was so green it ain't funny! And they have been so, so good to me. My father, my grandfather and our family business's ethos—and, touch wood, we have been successful—is that the most valuable asset we have ever had at our disposal has been our amazing staff, and nothing could be truer of the set of the staff here at Parliament House. The clerks, David and Claressa, Pete, James, Catherine, and Bronwyn; the two guys, Stephen Boyd and Jerome Brown, I dealt with in committees that I chaired; and the amazing sergeant-at-arms staff, Rod, Lynnette, Mike and Tracy; for all the assistance you have given me over six years, I will never be able to say thank you enough.
I was elected first as a local member, and I had a ball. It was obviously a great story. It was a seat that the Labor Party had held for some 91 years. I managed to pry it from their hands and at the last election, when things didn't go so great for us in New South Wales, I managed to get returned with a swing to me, which I will never forget. But as a local member the thing that has struck me—and I've been one now for three-and-a-half of the six years—is that you can actually get stuff done locally. Some of the proudest achievements I look back—I said in my maiden speech we have a real issue in this country with multicultural aged care. We don't do enough in this space. I know that at the 2013 election, the Lakemba Mosque had been promised money for an aged-care centre and the Maronite community was promised money for an aged-care centre. Both of those still have that money sitting in their bank accounts. I managed to convince Minister Fifield to get me money for the Gallipoli Mosque at Auburn, and the Gallipoli aged-care centre has now been opened. Minister Wyatt was with me when we opened it. It is the first aged-care centre in Australia that is based in the Islamic faith. What a thrill that is, not just because of the 96 bed-licences that are in there but because that joint has become a beacon for the whole community, offering out-care right next to the mosque, so people can practise their faith. This is the part of Sydney and the part of Australia that I proudly come from.
Big projects—major infrastructure like WestConnex—down to local roads and the roundabouts on Burlington Road at Homebush: it's the scale of stuff you can actually get done for the local community. The local sports grounds—Abbotsford soccer club, Burwood soccer club, West Harbour rugby club, Strathfield Park, Cintra netball—these are all things that have been delivered through hard work and advocacy. That's not peculiar to me. It's the same as we all do in this place, giving back to our local community.
I think as a local member, the highlight for me—and it was the irony of the time I was elected—was absolutely the Centenary of Anzac celebrations. In my electorate, we used that money—as I know you all did. One of my war memorials was 105 years old—sorry, centenary; wrong way!—95 years old. The footings were gone, the tuck pointing was gone and the roof was falling down. If you walked into it today, it now looks like the Ritz and will be there for another 100 years. These are the amazing things you can deliver locally.
My ministerial journey was first as the federal minister responsible for multiculturalism. I deadset enjoyed this, given the make-up and the profile of my seat. Prime Minister Turnbull entrusted me with the role at a time—and sadly we've been dragged back into it at the moment—when we were countering violent extremism. ISIS was brand-new. It was front and centre. Islamic extremism was brand-new. The Islamic community in Western Sydney and western Melbourne felt under attack, and the solution wasn't through the Attorney-General's office or policing agencies. Yes, both communities worked hand-in-hand with them for intelligence, but it needed the soft sell.
Minister Morrison at the time, now Prime Minister Morrison, was smart enough to understand through his connections with the community that that was the place that those dollars needed to be parked and that was the place where these programs needed to be developed. That was why I was so incensed recently. I spoke to Scott. I know how much Scott has done. I know the breadth and the strength of his connections in Sydney's Islamic community. I was with him the night after Tony, you and Jase—forgive me, Mr Speaker, there'll be a lot of names without seats tonight. I was at the Lakemba Mosque with the grand mufti, Sheikh Shady, Samier Dandan and all of our friends in the Islamic community. I saw them embrace the then Minister Morrison with open arms. I heard you listen to them. I heard you speak to them. I was filthy, mate, that that's what they were focusing on when I know how much you've done for that community.
I then moved on to Industry, Innovation and Science. Christopher said it this afternoon. I was responsible for finishing off implementation of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. I had a ball. I ran into Glenys Beauchamp and her staff—sorry, I should have said before Finn Pratt and his staff in multiculturalism. Glenys Beauchamp and her staff in Industry, Innovation and Science, we had a lot of fun. That space is obviously extremely important, and we need to keep investing in it.
Then I had the absolute pleasure again in my maiden speech—and you've heard me tonight make mention of family business and my passion for it. I said to Bruce Billson in my maiden speech that I thought the Minister for Small Business, at that stage for 112 years, had been misnamed. I thought that should be the minister for small and family business. Some four years later, I received a phone call from Prime Minister Turnbull and he said, 'Mate, we need you to do a couple things, but we don't know what to call it—small business, industrial relations and deregulation.' The first thing I said was, 'Can we please call it small and family business?' It's a unique thrill to not only say something in your maiden speech and see it happen but then be the first-ever minister that this country has had for small and family business. My great hope, whoever wins the next election, is that, for the history of time to come in this country, family businesses are not forgotten because, although family businesses make get big, they are still very much run through principles that were ingrained when there were small.
I would like to say, in that time, in an economic policy, it was a real buzz, because it gave me the opportunity to drive a change in culture through a department. I would argue that, since Federation—so, today, 118 years later—I reckon we have always tended to default in this place to our regulatory cap. That's how we think; how can we regulate? I would argue that we—the government of the day, irrespective of which side—are a business partner. Depending on your ownership structure, we own between 25 and 49 per cent of that business, so the more we can to get out of the way—reduce compliance costs, make it quicker and cheaper and easier—then that line item in your profit and loss statement will decrease, the profit will increase and guess what? We clip the ticket. That will give us more revenue in the economy that we can then spend on essential services.
It was that reason that one of my greatest thrills was, when I pitched to Malcolm, 'Can I use technology to simplify the way business interacts government?' he said, 'Yes, you can.' Kelly O'Dwyer gave me permission to take some of her stuff that she was doing, and we worked with Victor Dominello in New South Wales. It used to take 18 months to open a bar, restaurant or cafe in the Parramatta LGA—local government area—in New South Wales in the country of Australia. You had to fill in and comply with 59 different forms. We asked whether we could use technology—Victor was right on board, as was Parramatta Council—and it now takes you three weeks to open the same business. That's 17 months and one week that business is hopefully doing two things: making a quid—and we clip the ticket—and paying wages, and we clip the ticket. You and I have had this discussion, Ed. And you mentioned this with policing and technology use, Michael. I hope that in our economic portfolios, especially as we do our 31 business registries, for example, in the next term of government, as we modernise and move those into this century's structure, we can have business front and centre of mind.
My favourite parts of being an MP, first and foremost, are the friendships. I'm thrilled—overwhelmed, actually—to have so many people in the chamber tonight—on both sides of the aisle. And the independents! To my mates in the class of 2013, you have been an unbelievable team. We have dinners on Monday nights. Each Monday sitting night, we've been each other's confidants; we have gathered together since day one. We lost comrades at the last election—and some are in the gallery tonight. We've all kept together and kept strong. To my mates in the Nationals—they are a very, very unusual crew but I love 'em! As the son-in-law of a cattle farmer, I've always understood them.
An opposition member: That's the prickly pear farmer!
Exactly. In terms of Christmas parties singing karaoke with Matt Canavan, Jessie's Girl is something we did every year—no problems at all. You know the drama, though? This is something Australia doesn't see enough of: it's not just friendships that I've been lucky to make on this side; it's friendships I've been lucky to make on the other side. Again, I'm so thrilled to see so many here tonight. You've become great mates. Reid, at the moment, is an island of blue in a sea of red. You will all know in your own seats that the people you most interact with are your electoral neighbours. I'm surrounded by three blokes who have become real good mates: Albo, Tony Burke—who was a year ahead of me at St Pat's at Strathfield—and Jason Clare. I would see these blokes outside of here a couple of times a week. We have worked together especially at times when parts of our communities were fractured and under pressure. We have worked together, side by side, to keep people calm on both sides of the fence, as well as locally. I want to say a special thank you to those three guys for always putting party politics aside for the sake of the community—again, something that's not seen often enough.
I want to make special mention of Jase Clare. Jase is a great mate of my family. A night before I was elected—I had not met him but he was a great friend of dad's—I got a phone call late at night from Jase. He said: 'Mate, this will be a whirlwind. Are you available for a cup of tea so I can run you through what I think you should do and how you should do it?' The measure of you, Jase, is not just that you did that but that you and I have become great mates. You, Louise and your little bloke have become our great mates.
My second part of being a local member was immigration. You win some and lose some. We all know that—especially in our part of Sydney. The wins stick with you. I had a Korean family that was 24 hours away from being deported because a migration agent had stuffed up a paper 10 years ago. They had kids in selective high school and one kid playing golf with the New South Wales under-16s females squad. That family are still here. But you also lose some—which is tough. I had a Pakistani guy full of bone cancer. We tried to get his wife and kids out of a camp in North Pakistan, basically to come and say goodbye. I lobbied the minister at the time. I offered to pick them up at the airport and make sure they got on the plane when they got home. But I knew I wouldn't win. Ultimately Suzie and I ended up buying that gentleman a one-way ticket to go home, full of medication, and, sadly, die with his family.
My two biggest wins in immigration, without doubt, as far as I see it, included the increase of 12,000 additional Syrian refugees when it really got willing over there—it's still willing, but it really got willing. The photo that Soph showed me at the time of a baby on the edge of the water, drowned, prompted me to talk to the relevant ministers and we got a result. The second one was with my great mate, the member for McMillan, who's probably here somewhere. He and I went and saw you, Scott, and suggested that it might be a good idea to get the kids off Nauru. You were good enough, mate, to do that. I see that as a great win.
My third favourite part is schoolkids. Why? Because, quite simply, they are the hope of the side. If you think God doesn't have a sense of humour, my last school visiting here is Meriden School from Strathfield, where my two daughters went. I think that's fantastic. The last of my favourite parts is citizenship ceremonies. There is the look on people's faces as they become Australian citizens. Talking to them afterwards and listening to their stories, knowing full well that that day their stories become part of our story, is a thrill.
The worst part of being an MP is simply the fact that you are away from your family and you put them last. You do. Analise, as late as December, would have her end-of-year assembly. The reality is that, in a marginal seat—and I was still up in the air—her school votes for me. There are no votes there. So I went to Concord High School's assembly, which clashed at the same time. Why? Because it's in a key swing zone of the electorate. Sadly, if there's a function or whatever that you have to go to, that's often what you end up doing.
I have a list of thank yous. Firstly, I thank Mike Baird for inspiring me, challenging me and then supporting me non-stop from day one. He's the reason I'm here. I thank John Brogdon for not talking me out of it, although he took hours trying, and then supporting me through my preselection. I thank Joe Tannous and Michael Photios for helping me with my preselection when I knew nothing of the Liberal Party. I thank Neil Harley, who spent a year as my campaign director and then four years as my chief of staff, and then got poached by Gladys Berejiklian to run her campaign two years ago. I would have argued, pre two Saturdays ago, that I always thought that he has one of the sharpest political minds that I will ever met, and I think the result Saturday week ago would pay testament to that.
I thank my FEC presidents, Sandra Blackmore and Gulian Vaccari. You have been amazing supports, as has been all the rank and file in Reid for six years. They took me on trust. I came from the outside to within and they decided to take a punt on me. I hope that I haven't let them down. Gules is also the Mayor of Strathfield and I've worked closely with him. My two state members when I came into parliament were Libs. John Sidoti is still there and was promoted last week to the ministry—so well deserved; such a good mate, my Italian brother. He and his family have been a great support. Charles Casuscelli was there from 2011 to 2015 but, sadly, lost in 2015. Charles was an amazing support through that time. His replacement, Jodi McKay, was cut from the other side of the cloth, but Jodi is a wonderful local member whom I've worked closely with to come up with local solutions. Mayors John Faker and Angelo Tsirekas are, again, Labor mayors whom I've worked with closely to deliver for local communities, as well as Mayors Ronnie Oueik and Ned Addi.
I want to say a big thank you to my former industry. In the gallery tonight we have John Whelan, Steve Ferguson, Dave Currie, Anthony Ball and Anthony Tremaci, and the clubs and pubs and the hospitality industry more broadly. There are two things. Firstly, they were amazed that I was crazy enough to want to do this, but, secondly, they never stopped supporting me. Guys, thank you very much, and I thank the industry more broadly.
To all of my staff—I have two lots, obviously: my EO staff; two vintages. The first iteration was from 2013 to 2016. I've mentioned Neil Harley. Dom Mioli is up there tonight, as are John O'Boreman and Dave Tanti. Mike Morrow came on board. Alex Lucas has been a mainstay over the six years. He's here with his parents tonight. Snaher Sebreneham and Marc Snape are amazing; they became part of the family. Welcome to family business, guys, albeit politics! The second iteration included Vanessa Papastavros, Olivia Simpson, Matt Harrington and Aaron, who runs my life. Guys and girls, thank you very much for the six years of working with me and putting up with me.
To my ministerial staff—and there are a lot of them in the building tonight to watch their old boss—Jodie, Tamsin, Jen and David: you're all amazing. Melissa couldn't be here; she's overseas. Angus is interstate. They are fantastic people.
Thank you to my friends. Manning booths is a tough gig in a marginal seat, especially with an ageing conference, and I've had friends turn out in droves. The first one wasn't too bad, because the campaign was in spring. The second one was brutal, because it was eight weeks long and in winter, but friends who believed in me and wanted to support me turned up in big numbers, and I will be eternally grateful.
Thank you to my family. They've thrown me off kilter a little, because I thought only Suz was coming today and I've ended up with two of my three kids, Soph and Charlie, and my father, Arthur—he's probably more comfortable on your side over there, guys.
Opposition members: Here, here!
And so's Johnny Whelan, by the way! Also here is my father-in-law, Paul Crowe. I spoke about them all extensively when I made my maiden speech, and my children are now—what?—six years older. Charlie is now almost 21 and Soph is 20, so they were here at 14 and 13 when I made my maiden speech. I said at the time—and if you look up at them tonight you'll see that not only was it true then; it's even more true tonight—that I'm doubly blessed: they not only take after their mum but they look like her too.
Suz, my final thankyou is to you. You were crazy enough to let me turn our life on its head. We have had some good times and some bad, but we've got through. I look forward to the challenges that we will face in the future and I'm very excited about coming home.
I wanted to close by quoting the closing paragraphs in my maiden speech. I said:
We are all ultimately a product of our upbringing and education, and I have been blessed to attend three magnificent schools. The mottos of these three schools have always been a guide to the way I have lived my life. They best capture the way I will work to repay the faith that the people of Reid have shown in me. At Santa Maria Del Monte in Strathfield it was 'Veritas', which means 'truth'. At St Patrick's College in Strathfield it was 'Luceat Lux Vestra', which means 'let your light shine'. And at St Joseph's College at Hunters Hill it was 'In Meliora Contende', which means 'strive for better things'.
In representing the people of Reid I will search out and speak the truth. I will let my light shine strongly for my constituents. And I will strive for better things for all within my community.
Mr Speaker, I'd like to think I did so without fear or favour.
I wish you, Scott, and the team all the very best. I've been blessed to serve under you as Prime Minister and under Malcolm as Prime Minister. Obviously, Malcolm is an extremely close mate, and what happened in August last year was tough. To his credit, Tony Abbott worked tirelessly to get me elected in the first place. To those of you who are prepared to write him off in the seat of Warringah: I think you can think again. I absolutely respect the guy and he's a fighter from sun-up to sundown.
I wish you all the best with whatever comes. I wish everyone in this chamber all the best. I laughed with Paul Fletcher—I don't know if Fletcher's here—not long ago in question time. There's a common complaint when you leave politics that your phone stops ringing. I looked at Fletch and said, 'If only I would have that problem.' I like good people. I've been surrounded in this place, on both sides, by good people. If I can ever be of assistance to any of you moving forward—if it's on your side it will probably be through Dad—please don't hesitate to give me a yell.
You can't go to a Laundy family function and not have karaoke; it's just a given. My father's theme song is 'My Way'. Normally he's the one that sings it. Tonight I'm borrowing it. I want to finish by saying: the record shows I took the blows, and did it my way. Thank you.