Thursday, 10 February 2022
on indulgence—Firstly, I'd like to thank the House for its indulgence to allow me to make a valedictory speech. To the Deputy Prime Minister and to the ministers and shadow ministers, thank you for this opportunity. It only seems like yesterday that the 2016 election was held and we were summoned to Canberra for an induction for a couple of days. It was very interesting and it was an opportunity to meet all the new members from all over Australia from all the respective parties. While it has been six years, it certainly feels like it was only a few days ago.
I see today as an opportunity to thank the many people that help you as a member of parliament when you come to this place, and I want to thank the people that have enabled me to be the member for Murray and then the member for Nicholls. Firstly, there are my staff. My first office manager was Alison Foscholo. Then I had Claire Ewart-Kennedy and Lyndal Humphris. They have all been wonderful at managing the office and they've enabled me to concentrate on the job at hand of being the MP. My media adviser in the office is the wonderful and talented Luke Griffiths. I also have two incredible staffers who have been with me for the full six years: Mark Skilbeck, as my lead adviser, and Tessa Harris, who has managed the diary and been at the front of the office since day one. A big thank you to all of those staff. I also want to say a huge thank you to Di Andrews who is in the position of whip's clerk. It's a huge job, and Di has been wonderful in that role. I also need to thank Tory Mencshelyi, who has been a huge help, not just to myself but to the entire National Party team. As MPs we are all only as good as our staff, and I think all of us should, every now and again, take time to reflect on how good our staff are and how much work they actually do for us each and every day.
When I talk about the Nationals team, I really want to thank all of my team here today for all of your support and friendship. Sometimes this team has the capacity to turn an otherwise quiet and uneventful day into something a little bit more frenetic, complicated, and, may I say, a little bit amusing as a workplace. So my team can never be classified as being boring.
I love the Nationals and I genuinely believe in the movement that the Nationals stand for. For over 100 years, we've been putting regional issues at the front of the political debate—in politics, where the numbers rule in a ruthless fashion. We live in a country that has 43 per cent of its people living in two cities. I have, simply, a natural belief that if we go forward without a strong National Party we will also lose out on the contested issues to the parties that are centred around the capital cities. I know the Nats are far from perfect, but we know our people, we work hard for our people and we work hard to make sure that each of us gets better and better.
To that aim, I would like to thank Barnaby Joyce and Michael McCormack for their leadership, and I acknowledge the entire team for your leadership and your support. However, there are three individuals I would like to make a special mention of, and they are Darren Chester, Kevin Hogan and Pat Conaghan. These guys have that extra level of friendship, again. All the members in this House, from all parties, will understand exactly how important true friends are—people you can share anything with, people who are always there to support you and people who are always there to give you some hard truths every now and again. Therefore, I want to thank those people.
I would also like to thank the many members of the Liberal and Labor parties who have put party politics aside and have enabled friendship between us to grow. That's another thing people outside this House don't understand—that there are strong friendships that grow within the various parties and even across two opposition parties. I would also like to thank that little group that sits just over there to the right and normally gets the banter going whenever there is a division, because that's a very funny little group that sits over there!
I'd also like to take the opportunity to thank the parliamentary staff. We have the drivers who look after us, we have the clerks and we have the House staff; they're always more than happy to help every time we want any bit of assistance. We have this wonderful catering staff here in the House, and I'll just take this opportunity again to thank those people and to acknowledge how lucky we are to be treated so well.
Apart from this being a wonderful opportunity to thank people, it's also an opportunity to reflect on what my team has been able to achieve for the electorate of Murray and now Nicholls. It's very humbling to be able to stand up and announce big infrastructure projects like the Echuca Moama bridge, funding for the upgrade of the Shepparton rail line and funding for a new cancer centre at Goulburn Valley Health. To have millions of dollars spent in Yarrawonga, Echuca, Kyabram, Nagambie, Seymour and Shepparton gives you a sense of justification that the faith your constituents have placed in you has in some way been repaid. And if you want my summary of this job, it is: well, you go to Canberra and you get the money to come back and give us the things that we need in our electorate. That's effectively how I see this role.
But of all the projects that I've been able to deliver, the Murray-Darling school of medicine is possibly the one I am most proud of. In an area that is short of doctors, we are four years into a seven-year program that will see 30 doctors graduate each and every year from the University of Melbourne's Shepparton campus. This will have a lasting health benefit for the people of the Goulburn Valley well into the future.
Thinking about some of the more memorable moments, I can't go past this opportunity: leading into the last election, when the water debate was heating up, we called a public meeting, and I invited the then water minister, David Littleproud, and also Barnaby Joyce down to front a group of angry water advocates. They came from everywhere to meet us. And to say that these farmers were somewhat angry—we knew they would be combative, but it was taken to another level again. Most people thought I was mad to stage that opportunity—and maybe they were right. I put myself and my party leaders in front of an angry group of farmers. They knew we were trying to help them, but they were bitterly disappointed that we weren't able to get the security and the legislated changes to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan that they desperately craved. We escaped with our physical wellbeing barely in check. I will never forget that public meeting at Goulburn Valley coolstores.
Communities up and down the Murray-Darling rivers have paid a huge price to comply with the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. I urge all political parties from all states to show some genuine compassion about the damage inflicted by the plan. I urge these political parties to take an empathetic view forward as we try and find the right balance between water for agriculture and livelihoods versus water for rivers, wetlands and lakes.
It's amazing how many other industries hang off the back of agriculture. In my electorate there would be more than 5,000 people who are employed directly in food processing. Then on top of that there are also the transport industries. Then on top of that there are also the packaging industries. Then there are the steel engineering industries. Then there are also the large parts of the professional sector. All of these industries are relying heavily on the outcomes of agriculture. When ag is struggling all those other associated businesses are also struggling.
The Goulburn Valley really is a food bowl that produces so much for our great country and, therefore, I think we all need to be aware of that. For those members who have been to my parliamentary office, you will see that it looks a little bit like a supermarket. I have a collection of produce from the Goulburn Valley that really does highlight the productivity of that region.
On reflection, I've also really enjoyed my time as a National Party whip. People often ask me: what's the story about the whip? What is that? My response is that it's just like being a team manager. You're working with other members, having them take you into their confidence, helping the leadership get things organised. It's a role that I have really enjoyed—hosting whips drinks also! I have also enjoyed working with the other party whips, with Chris and Jo; with Anne from the Labor Party; with Bert, Nicolle and Rowan from the Libs. It is a fantastic group—Kenny O'Dowd. It's a great group of people that are effectively just trying to make sure that the House operates as smoothly as it can.
I also think it's worth acknowledging the various councils that I work with across the Goulburn Valley: the Mitchell and Strathbogie shires in the south, the Moira and Campaspe shires in the north, the Greater Shepparton City Council. They've all been tremendous to work with. I start nearly every project with joint local and federal government buy-in—always start from a position of support. Very, very rarely would I ever oppose a local government and their projects.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank all the volunteers within a National Party, especially in Nicholls. There are too many to mention, but I would just like to thank Lindsay Dann, Don and Cheryl Kilgour and Peter Ryan. There are so many others and I will always be indebted to you for the support and the friendship that you have offered. I would also like to acknowledge the state team led by Tim Bull, assisted by Steph Ryan and Peter Walsh. They're a great bunch and I wish them well into the future.
I also want to acknowledge one of the great leaders of the Nats in Tim Fischer. He had a mantra that used to say: 'You've got to keep firmly in touch with at least 10 friends from outside of politics and you've got to work hard on those friendships.' Well, I am relatively lucky because I've got that number covered with my punters club group. These guys know a lot about horses, cricket, golf, footy and life in general. Unsurprisingly, they have some very strong opinions, but they too are great friends. I love catching up with those guys and I hope to catch up with them more into the future.
I would also like to acknowledge my siblings. I was very, very lucky to be born into the family that I was born into. We were very, very poor, but as you get older in life you realise how lucky you were. A big thank you to my five brothers and my one sister, and to all my nieces and nephews.
I would also like to thank my five children. They are just wonderful human beings. Wanting to spend more time with them has played a major role in this decision to step down and not contest at the next election. To Luke, Alyce, Gabby, Corey, Josh, Sally, Willow, Olive and Sonny, I am really looking forward to spending more time with you all and not feeling guilty about it, which happens to be the problem I have at the moment. Every time I'm with family I probably should be at some community event, and I get a case of the guilts.
As I said, I'm very proud of my kids. I am very proud of their work ethic. I am very proud of the adults that they've become. They're very resilient individuals, but they have great care for their friends. I also acknowledge that I have been very busy for most of my life, whether it was building sheds, coaching footy, state politics or this job here, and it's the kids who have often missed out. I've missed many barbecues and many birthdays. I have missed doing what normal families would take for granted. I'm sure most of you in this House know exactly what I'm talking about. The amount of sacrifice we in this House have so that we can do our job just needs to be pointed out, because this job certainly does become all-consuming.
I say thank you to my wonderful partner, Ros, and her family and extended family. Ros is in the gallery today with her great friends Bruce and Kerry Winzar, her son Sam and his girlfriend, Emma, which is fantastic. Putting your hand up for this job means making significant sacrifices—sacrificing your time and sacrificing your family. It's your partner, wife or husband who bears the brunt of that sacrifice. For me it's now time to put family first. Ros, thank you for enabling me to do this job. I thank you again for helping me better understand a few different points of view on a few different issues every now and again. You have simply been a wonderful partner over the last 15 years. I really am looking forward to having more time to do the things that we enjoy more so than the things we have to do. You're very understanding and compassionate. Ros has her own business helping people with disabilities. It's a big business that keeps her very busy. She is just the most wonderful partner.
It is great to look back and see what has been achieved. It has been an amazing ride. I've just loved the ride. I'm also keen to look ahead to the new chapter, even though I have no idea what the new chapter will look like. I will finish how I started. I thank you all for your indulgence to make a valedictory speech to thank those who have done so much to help me perform this role. Cheers.
on indulgence—Drummy, as he is so well known, has been a great servant to his football club, the beloved Geelong; to his party, the Nationals; to the state of Victoria; and to the nation of Australia. He has been a great honour to his family. We wish him all the very best.
on indulgence—It is the mark of the man that the member for Nicholls, Damian Drum, would not be able to name an enemy in this place. A place where there are often false enemies and even falser friends, Drummy has only friends and mates across the divide and in our party room. As the National Party Whip he was actually the glue of the party room. He held people together, even at times when the bonds were enormously strained. His mix of humility, grace and dignity is something we'll miss in our party room, but most of all we will miss his irreverence, his incredible sense of humour and his capacity to turn the worst situation into something quite funny—often inappropriately and often with quite gallows-like humour.
Damian has served with great distinction at both the state and federal levels. He was a reliable friend in this place—I feel like I'm almost eulogising my mate. He has had one bit of advice to us all—never take yourself too seriously. You can rely on Drummy because, even when Barnaby sacked me the second time, Drummy told Barnaby what a stupid idea it was while at the same time he told me, 'Suck it up, Princess.' Damian, I will miss your incredibly frank and fearless advice. As someone who experienced setbacks of your own as a footy coach you taught us all that it doesn't define you and you bounce back stronger than ever. You made an incredible contribution. I wish you, Ros and your families great health and safety travels.
Before I call the member for Bennelong, I would like to join with my parliamentary colleagues and congratulate the member for Nicholls. I came in with the member for Nicholls in 2016. I think the member for Nicholls is a dying breed in Australia now: a mix of larrikinism, irreverence and just a downright good, old-fashioned bloke. But behind every good, old-fashioned bloke there's a fantastic woman. Ros, thank you for what you've done not just for Damian but also for the partners of the male members in this place.
And he is not a bad tennis player either! He tells me his golf is something special!
I rise here today to speak as a result of a strange series of events and a great number of people who have initiated, cajoled, encouraged, mentored and worked with me to win back Bennelong, hold it through five campaigns and engage in work to address challenges where answers must be found. I've often been asked what the difference is between my first career as a tennis player and this. My quick response is that the game of tennis starts at love all. Ponder that. In my time on the tour, tennis went open, allowing the professionals entry into the grand slams, and the tour events became prize money tournaments rewarding performance regardless of reputation or standing. The equitable breakdown was initiated unselfishly by Ken Rosewall, who was then the king of the pros. The best events welcomed the best players, and tennis became a performance based profession with an equitable distribution of funds—a meritocracy in its purest form. Tennis since that time has grown and prospered beyond the wildest expectations. If our arena in this chamber had the same basis for meritocracy and fairness and a true contest of vision and ideas, imagine what could be achieved.
I was attracted to enter the political world after conversations with Brendan Nelson and John Howard, who were both keen to attract people with real life experience who could contribute to the development of policy. My summation of their advice was that a party should only win office on the basis of the policies, plans and vision they present and that governments should only hold on to office on delivering on those undertakings. The year 2010 was good for the coalition, and I was one of many to win a seat in parliament. I was delighted to find I had some 80-plus new friends with a common thread uniting us. We formed friendships quickly, and these bonds have endured. I became besties with the Wyatts—Ken Wyatt and Wyatt Roy—even though my shoes were older than Wyatt Roy, and they still are! However, Ken tested our friendship with his maiden speech. It was magnificent, moving, insightful and hopeful—and totally inconsiderate of those who had to follow! In truth, the real reason why I am retiring now is so that I don't have to follow him again.
When elected in 2010, I likened it to being selected to represent your country in sport. Initially, there is a euphoric moment of elation, but then very quickly it dawns on you that the responsibility of representation is now yours. The electorate of Bennelong is named after a man who symbolises first contact between the English settlers and the First Nations people—the commencement of multiculturalism in this country—so it is appropriate that it is now one of the most multicultural communities in Australia. Our schools are diverse, with distinctly unique characteristics, and our communities are multicultural and vibrant. Our strength and character are built on this diversity. Macquarie Park, Macquarie University and the CSIRO are at the cutting edge of innovation, and it's amazing how many life-changing and life-saving developments have come from this quarter. Our suburbs hold families both old and young, established and, now, many moving into new apartments in Epping, North Ryde and Meadowbank.
Since 2010, I've survived five elections, against a high-profile journalist, an international businessman, a former premier, Australia's best neurosurgeon and—perhaps best of all—a local mum. We kept winning, I believe, because we listened and understood local problems and set out to address them. In visiting schools I was made aware of concerns that a lack of participation in traditional Australian sports was leaving some students out of games but also, more importantly, the friendships that would be made by participating in sport. Thanks to the generosity of Hyundai we put table tennis tables in all 40 schools, providing a sport that every student could play. With the help of Hugh Lee of the AAAB and Andrew Hill, the Bennelong Cup was up and running—and still is. Thousands of children have made friends through this initiative, and I'm grateful to every school that has taken part. A collateral benefit is that we've also produced quite a number of ranked players.
In 2010, small businesses were really struggling with the effects of the global financial crisis and unfair competition from the major players with their $2 milk. We set out to encourage people to support their local businesses through the Bennelong Village Businesses campaign. In this, we were aided with marketing assistance provided by Boehringer Ingelheim and their CEO, Wes Cook; and the support of our local paper, the Weekly Times, and its legendary editor John Booth. We're about to celebrate John's 90th birthday. Unfortunately, he finds himself in hospital after a late-night fall after working—he works seven days a week. Get well soon, John, and go the Tigers! They're his favourite football team.
We've brought our local schools closer to our innovative businesses in Macquarie Park by setting up the Bennelong STEM Challenge with the generous support of Medtronic. I was inspired to run this as a kind of tournament for the brain, and I've been genuinely surprised and impressed by the collegiate nature of the students participating and the way they discuss and engage with each other to expand and improve their projects.
I've walked nearly every street of the electorate through doorknocking and three 100-kilometre walks across Bennelong to raise money for life-saving charities Motor Neurone Disease NSW, the Leukemia Foundation and Rare Voices. We've had some big wins, on 18C, saving Tennis World and making Eastwood safer for residents, and some important invisible ones like securing funding for the life-changing work of RASAID and helping Youthsafe keep our youth, well, safe. These little victories, the ones that don't make headlines but make a real, tangible difference to a small group of people, are as precious as anything.
Armed with the advice that government should only be won by better policies, the first step was to really understand the issues in Bennelong. So our three rules of engagement were to listen, listen and then listen again. People were concerned about house prices as Bennelong recorded the strongest growth of any electorate in the mid-decade housing boom, locking first homebuyers out of the suburbs they grew up in and excluding essential workers like teachers, nurses and police from living in the communities that they served. They were also concerned about overdevelopment and traffic congestion, as Bennelong is bisected by five of the 10 most congested roads in the state. Like in much of Sydney, high rises are coming to dominate our suburbs, putting pressure on roads, schools and living standards.
This struck a chord with my experience. In my maiden speech I talked about my time living in Atlanta, Georgia and the extraordinary growth of the US's Sun Belt cities from Florida to California. This growth had been implemented by visionary local authorities, who set out to sell Atlanta to the world on the basis of building infrastructure which provided quick connectivity to all of the east coast. 'Where is our Atlanta?' I asked in my maiden speech. I wanted this chamber to be an arena for a contest of ideas and vision like I had seen in America. I wanted our members and leaders to be armed with the courage to achieve bold visions not mired in petty, non-productive denigration of each other, as had been the trend. The extreme growth of the American Sun Belt was in stark contrast to the imbalance of settlement that was stifling our growth. Strategic decentralisation was what America did so well and what would be an answer to our local housing and congestion challenges. As a result, I have devoted much of my time to finding ways to plan settlement and, importantly, fund the infrastructure that will realise the creation of new cities. In the absence of a plan, Sydney and Melbourne have grown exponentially and created a great imbalance of settlement.
Our major cities are amongst the most expensive in the world, are congested, and the cost of refitting infrastructure is prohibitive. We must create a plan of settlement and design infrastructure which will facilitate a strategic decentralisation that creates smart, environmentally friendly cities, leveraging off our economic powerhouse CBDs within commutable times, which would be possible when connected by fast mass transport. Initially, growth would be driven by connectivity but eventually these cities would reach a critical mass to be sustainable in their own right, forming mega regions that will drive our economic growth while providing affordable housing and better quality of life for future generations. When funded by a reasonably equitable share of the uplifted value of the land, this infrastructure can be fairly, sustainably and fully funded. Every day we do not act on this raises the cost involved and sets Australia back further.
I am pleased to see that we have made some small steps on these fronts. I have chaired inquiries that have called for the creation of a minister for housing, an agency to examine better ways to fund infrastructure and an agency that looks into faster and high-speed rail, which became the Infrastructure and Project Financing Agency and the National Faster Rail Agency respectively. I now look forward to these groups actually doing something. The work has led to numerous in-depth, fruitful discussions with outside groups that support these policies, not just experts and academics but business leaders, engineers, bankers and ambassadors. The community will is there. We just need political leadership and a vision.
Unfortunately, vision that plans for decades into the future is at odds with a political system that resets every three years and is obsessed with the narrative of the day. In this House, where the main game is all too often to denigrate and name call, the contest of ideas is the first casualty. If I could change one thing about our system, it would be the way it segregates ministers from the parliament; opportunities are lost through this.
Our democracy is not only representative because it incorporates every citizen, but, because of our diversity, the members of this parliament are more representative of Australia than ever before. This legislature is a valuable resource for government because we all represent our communities and our own personal histories but too often parliament and its work are dismissed by government, and committees are seen as ways to occupy backbenchers. I am immensely proud of the work that my colleagues and I have done on backbench committees. Our backbench committees utilise the knowledge and expertise of their members and engage with world-leading experts from across the country. We find the facts that then build the solid foundation of reasoned recommendations to form evidence based policies for our leaders to absorb and use yet, once tabled, the reports sit in at ministerial drawers to gather dust and eventually receive a token response that does not engage with the scholarship within.
It is often said that these committees are where we do our best work in this place, and that has certainly been my experience. This good work is only possible through the parliamentary staff who manage us, educate us and draft our reports. I have been incredibly lucky to have the great support of a number of committee staff, particularly Killian Perrem, Lynley Ducker, Bill Pender, Samantha Mannette and Lachlan Wilson. Thank you all for your hard work and your scholarship. Great friendships have been made with co-chairs of these committee—Jim Chalmers, Sharon Bird, Luke Gosling and all the members. I am proud of the camaraderie we have maintained and the bipartisan nature we have always upheld. I am also pleased to have never had a dissenting report on any inquiry report that I have tabled. It is frustrating that, although we have many friends across this aisle, all the public sees is question time, showing us to be aggressive and divided. The low standard of public discourse is high on the list of reasons why Australians are losing trust in politics. A true contest of ideas is not one that relies on the destruction of the opposing view to then win by default. In thousands of conversations in Bennelong, the overwhelming interest of people is on plans and ideas, not political denigration.
The Menzies-Calwell Club was formed in 2013, following a magnificent valedictory speech by widely respected Martin Ferguson and the generous response of the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott. I have vivid memories of my dad telling me that Bob Menzies and Arthur Calwell had lunch each Friday after sitting weeks to find agreement on the best courses of action. In their image our club meets each Tuesday for lunch and leaves politics at the door. Arthur Calwell never made it to Prime Minister, but through these lunches he had an inordinate amount of sway from the opposition benches. It's a surprise that, at a time when we look back on this gilded age, for many it was also a high mark for bipartisanship.
Bipartisanship starts with all of us. Each Thursday morning we play tennis on the parliamentary courts—it's open to everyone: Peter Khalil, Anthony Albanese, Kevin Hogan—what a great partner! They're regulars. Of course now, with Anthony the Leader of the Opposition, he can't always make it. Kevin and I are not overly competitive, but we do take every no-show as a default. Bipartisanship has its limits.
At this point, I'd hoped to turn to a packed gallery and thank my friends who were watching up there—people like the candidate chosen to be my successor, except one hasn't been chosen yet. So, COVID has ruined yet another thing, and the galleries are much barer than I'd hoped. However, I suppose this isn't a bad thing as all of the people I have to thank and friends made over the past 11 years wouldn't fit into these galleries and so, sadly, won't all fit into this speech, but I'll try.
Thanks to all my supporters. Back in 2010, we gathered 600 people to help us out in the election, and I'm amazed that so many of those people are still campaigning for us today. To every person who passed out a how-to-vote card, stood before the sun came up at a freezing train station, hammered in a lawn sign or helped in any one of an infinite number of ways: thank you; I am only here because of your generosity.
Thanks, also, to my close friends, the late Bill Gough, Craig Brown and Josh Bihary who formed my initial support team; Caroline Currie who insisted I meet with the Brendan Nelson which started this political ball rolling, and Mitch Geddes who led me to doorknock over 9,000 homes in the first campaign.
Josh had called me after an incorrect report that I was running for preselection for Bradfield, divulging that his first love was politics and offering to be my campaign manager for this preselection. I looked forward to finding out what a preselection was as I knew not. Josh became my senior adviser, and we remain great friends. He's sitting up there today with Jonathon, my current senior adviser and friend. I always muse: isn't it funny that my senior advisers look so much younger than I? I'm tall for my age.
I've been fortunate to have incredible mentors who guided me in my good friend Victor Dominello and the then Father of the House, Philip Ruddock. They, and many others, have provided me with guidance, especially through the first few cautious years of learning—thank you all so much.
My good fortune extends to the local conference led over the years by Artin Etmekdjian, the late Peter Graham and currently James Wallace with passionate and helpful executive teams that are too large to mention here. Thank you all for your support and guidance, and good luck leading our team in the foreseeable future.
To the people I work with: everybody in this room knows how much we rely on our officers, and I am no different. Our office has been like a home, a family. In the five years between 2016 and when I announced my retirement, we had only one member of staff leave us—for a very large amount of money—which I think speaks more to the camaraderie of the office than anything else.
Some time ago, I looked up the definition of team. Essentially, a team is a group of individuals who join to achieve a common purpose, bringing together complementary skills to form a force greater than the sum total of its parts. I've been privileged to be part of this team, united in the quest for fairness, opportunity and equity, and genuinely seeking what is best for our community and our country with an uncompromised integrity.
Thank you to everyone who has worked in the office—those who were there at the beginning: Josh, Jen, Peter, Jacquie, Suzanne and Belinda; those who came in between: Sarah, Marie, Edwina, Molly, Jacob, Ursula, Simone and Tim; and those who are here now: Frances; Brendan; Daniel; Kendal and Madison, the twins; Wally and Jonathon. They all work really hard, except for Wally. He's useless, he's a dog—but very good for morale. As with my own family, I love each of you, and this will remain so. Working with you has been a joy, and I am proud of what our team has achieved together.
My partner, Gill, daughter Emily and son, Charlie, were able to come to my maiden speech—Charlie still in his school uniform. However, Georgia was in England doing a gap year. All three of my children and Gill are here today, as well as my sister Annette. Thank you for taking time out of your very busy schedules. And it is interesting to note that, last night, or earlier today, when I was going to bed, you were waking up. Funny how times have changed and tables have turned!
My other sisters, Pam and Susan, are unfortunately unable to be here today. My first racquet was inherited from Pam; Annette threw me the first balls to try to hit; and my first taste of real competition was trying to beat my sister Susan, which took years.
The demands of this job are such that, too often, I've allowed my pursuits to distract from what is really important, and for these lapses I am sorry. My father, a romantic, often said, 'The pursuit of anything but love, laughter and happiness is futile.' Now, without this job, I will be a better partner and dad. To my children: while I am proud of your success, I am more proud of how hard you have worked and persevered to earn your success. The real value of our family, as with all families, is: when we suffer failure, we are comforted by each other, and when there are victories, we're all there to celebrate with you—the more so because you deserve it.
And finally, thank you to the people of Bennelong for your trust and support in having me represent you. I hope I'm followed by a candidate who is able to represent you with all of their focus, as I have tried to.
To close, in keeping with the advice I received from John Howard, I want this place to be an arena where ideas, plans and visions will be contested, with the best winning and all Australians benefiting. Those involved in achieving such outcomes, whether in government or opposition, will be proud of their contribution, and Australians will be proud of their elected representatives. If this place could agree on common goals and we combine to bring all that we have to achieve these goals on behalf of the Australian people, maybe we could earn their trust and respect. So my wish, on the eve of an election being called, is: make this a contest of ideas, plans and vision that will uplift our people and give them hope for the future and opportunities for all. I thank the House for your indulgence.
Can I, unusually, just offer my congratulations and best wishes to the member for Bennelong on behalf of the Opposition and the Australian Labor Party. John Alexander was a great Australian tennis player, a great representative, and he's a man who has a great deal of dignity about him. I thank him also for teaching me how to do a kick second serve. I wish him well in the future. I'm glad that he's retiring, in one perspective, because, when the by-election occurred in Bennelong, I did tell the New South Wales branch secretary at the time: 'We will not beat John Alexander while he is there.' He was also a very good and diligent local member. And I wish him and his family all the best for the future.
on indulgence—In the autumn of 2010, I'd never thought of being a politician. Yet, by the spring of 2010, I was one. The preselected candidate for Flynn had withdrawn his nomination. I was in the party room of the local branch and was told to get a candidate—quick time. When the music stopped, I was left holding the ball.
Flynn is a fairly large electorate. It's 133,000 square kilometres, twice the size of Tasmania. From my business experience, I knew about 50 per cent of the electorate, which just happened to change boundaries between 2007 and 2010. The other 50 per cent, in North and South Burnett, I wasn't too familiar with, so I had to get to know that area pretty quickly in the three months leading into the election.
The election came and went in a blur, and suddenly I was the new member for Flynn. Where to now? Fortunately, Senator Barnaby Joyce, Ron Boswell and Connie Fierravanti-Wells came and gave me some very good advice. Barnaby was in the Senate in those days. I thank Graham McVean. He was my early chief of staff and helped me on the way too.
After three days on the road with Senator Fierravanti-Wells, she told me I had her baffled; she didn't know what faction I belonged to. I responded by saying I didn't know what a 'faction' was; I thought they were only in the Labor Party. How wrong was I! I also found out something else about Connie. I took her down an underground sapphire mine at the Gemfields. She was very allergic to bats. She quickly left me, and I found her later on in the shop buying sapphires.
So I went into parliament treating my constituents like I did my customers. I was in business for 30 years prior to becoming a parliamentarian. The 'customer is always right' philosophy is what I've based my, probably, four terms on. In the first term, 2010 to 2014, we were in opposition, and the class of 2010 were already making their presence felt in opposition. John Alexander was a case in point. Harry Jenkins was the Speaker, and, unlike some of my colleagues—like Michael McCormack, George Christensen and Ewen Jones—I was never evicted prematurely from the House. Michael McCormack chalked up seven evictions. I think George Christensen probably would have beat him, but nevertheless. Ewen Jones had the loudest voice in the parliament, and he quite often got kicked out. There were other guys in the House then. The late Paul Neville and Bruce Scott were much more refined, and they were never asked to leave the chamber. Even our Nationals leader, Warren Truss, a true statesman, was sent out, much to our surprise. Harry wasn't in the chair on that day.
Christmas 2010 it had began to rain but forgot to stop. A lot of damage was done on all the river flats throughout Flynn: the Nogoa, the Comet, the Dawson, the Fitzroy, the Kolan, the Burnett and Barambah Creek all flooded. 'One-in-100-year flood,' they said. Emerald, Theodore, Bundaberg, Gayndah, Rockhampton—all were flooded. Roads and property damage was extensive. A similar event happened in 2013, with the same result. Julia Gillard was the Prime Minister and Anna Bligh was the Premier, and they both came to Flynn. We were grateful for the financial assistance they offered in yet another one-in-100-year flood. John Cobb, the former member for Calare and the then shadow minister for agriculture, quipped that he'd spent more time in Flynn during 2010 to 2013 than he had in his own electorate. These flood events were a sharp learning curve for me. It was great to see the three levels of government working together to restore the damage.
Through my four terms I've worked with committees: trade and investment, petitions, defence, treaties and agriculture. This gave me a much better understanding of how these portfolios work and what work has to be done, and that it takes committee members from both sides of the House to achieve what we achieved. My current deputy chair, Justine Elliott, is a pleasure to work with, as is the secretariat.
I did plenty of overseas delegations, and every country I visited had their own issues and their own way of handling their chosen style of government. After two trips to Palestine and Israel, I'm hoping a solution can be found very soon. Peace between these two nations is paramount to the whole region. I leave it to my friends Mark Coulton, Marie Vamvakinou, Anne Aly and others to continue the fight for justice to bring human rights and peace to this troubled land. His Excellency Izzat Salah Abdulhadi, the Head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, is a very sincere person and a true gentleman. You'll always have my support. Senator Patrick Dodson, the late Alex Gallacher, former member for Macarthur Russell Matheson and member for Fowler Chris Hayes have proved to be great team members on these delegations, and we remain good friends.
Along the way there have been many people who helped me, and I'd like to take a moment to mention some of their names: John and Sue Engwicht, Mike Burns, Ross Drayton, Cameron and Joan Millar, Sonia Burton, Graeme and Lyn Johnston, Neil and Margaret Dunbar, Don Williams, Ian and Norma Rolfe, Eddie and Mary Vella, Colin and Catherine Dunne, Peter Craig, Darryl Kelly, Ron Norman, Frank Fraser, Graham and Lyn McVean, Craig Butler, Don Holt, Tony Goodwin, Hec Kilah, Oz Blacker, good mate the late Greg McCann, Kathy Duff, Margi Morris, Barbara Hocking, Gil and Michelle Smith, the late Percy Iszlaub from Wondai, Wally Knight, Mark Postle, Bob McCosker, Bob Pailthorpe, Graham Hartley, Glen Bryce, Don and Carmel Waugh, Ken and Val McInness, Ivan and Gleniss Shepherdson, Jeff and Bronwyn Schultz and John Gibbs.
I turn to the class of 2010—now the cream comes to the top, outstanding!—and the ministers who came out of that class: Josh Frydenberg, Karen Andrews, Ken Wyatt, Dan Tehan and Alan Tudge. They will continue to serve this country well. I've got my federal colleagues on my electorate boundaries in the federal scene. I share about 200 or 300 kilometres of boundaries with David Littleproud and then I have Llew O'Brien from Wide Bay, Keith Pitt from Hinkler and Michelle Landry from Capricornia. I have state colleagues—Lachlan Millar in Gregory, Colin Boyce in Callide and Stephen Bennett from Burnett near Bundaberg. I've eight mayors and, of course, the councillors. I thank them for the work they do. They do a great job, and they will continue to do a great job.
There's about 10 of us on this side of the House departing: Greg Hunt, John Alexander, Kevin Andrews, Nicolle Flint, Andrew Laming, Steve Irons, George Christensen, Christian Porter and Damian Drum. I wish those 10 people all the best in their new lives. There are others from the other side leaving, and I'll just mention a couple. I don't know the whole list, but there is Joel Fitzgibbon—Joel and I have got something in common: we spread a bit of coal dust on our porridge every morning—Warren Snowdon and, of course, Chris Hayes. I wish Chris would get off that motorbike and stop having accidents. I want to thank the Canberra parliamentary staff for the work they do: the clerks, secretaries, Comcar drivers, transport officers, the Serjeant-at-Arms, the mail and delivery teams, the Hansard reporters, the caters and the attendants. You all do a fantastic job looking after us while we're in Canberra.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, former prime ministers Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard and deputy prime ministers Warren Truss and Michael McCormack: you've all done an outstanding job and made outstanding contributions to make Australia a better place. Well done in what you have done! I wouldn't like to do your job for all the coal in Queensland.
So my parliamentary journey has come to an end and I look back over what I've achieved for Flynn. To name a few projects, there is the Rookwood Weir, water projects in the North and South Burnett, the Gracemere to Yeppen four-lane highway, the Philip Street bypass, lights at Dawson Road, funding for the Springsure to Tambo road—David Littleproud probably wants to take some credit for that too. There is the John Peterson Bridge at Mundubbera. There are the men's sheds. What a great bunch of men's sheds we have in Flynn and across Australia! They do a fantastic job. There is the wooden bridge replacements, over 30 mobile phone towers, the upgrade of the Bruce Highway from Gin Gin to Rockhampton, six passing lanes on the Capricorn Highway, flood damage recovery, the swimming pool at Blackwater, the rebuild of the Mount Morgan range after the flood, the betterment projects in the Gayndah-Mundubbera area, the new disaster centre at Gayndah Airport, skills training centres in the Gladstone High School and at the CQUniversity, Southern Oil—and I thank Michael McCormack for introducing me to Tim Rose and those guys from Southern Oil who decided to make Gladstone their northern depot. There is headspace in Gladstone and Emerald, the Emerald Hospital upgrades and health precinct at Emerald, and multiple projects under the regional jobs programs.
My future project, which I hope to be alive to see, is the Gladstone to Toowoomba rail link. It is a very important piece of infrastructure and we're currently doing the business case study on that right now.
I turn to my staff at Gladstone and Emerald. Sue Carige and Lane Buffington have been with me from the start. Lane is here with us today. Of course, we then have Rachel Hardy, Natasha Nixon and Jenny, who have also been in the Gladstone office for a long, long time. I'd like to thank Mitch for stepping in at short notice. He does the media for me at the moment. Thank you all. You all do a wonderful job.
I turn to my family. We were raised on a dairy farm at Bracewell near Mount Larcom. Mum and Dad had to work very hard in those days to support my three sisters and my one brother. The three sisters and one brother were allergic to milking cows, and that left me doing the job on most occasions. I don't mind saying that because it's true. But where would you be without your family and their unwavering support?
On a sad note, while I've been in parliament my mother, my brother, Bob, my sister Maureen and my brother-in-law George have passed away. I've got to thank my children, Ben and Amber, and the grandkids for their support. To my partner, Shirley, thank you for being with me on this very special journey and for keeping the home fires burning whilst I was on the road and at other places. Fast horses and stud Brahman cattle may be the answer in our retirement. To my sisters Bernice and Lorraine and my sister-in-law, Joyce, and brother-in-law John: thank you for your support over the years. Thanks for your encouragement and good feedback over the four terms.
To my Flynn constituents, thank you for making Flynn the economic powerhouse that it is for Queensland and for Australia's economic future. They include coalminers, heavy-industry workers, gas workers, cattle producers, farmers and transport workers. They are innovators such as the Ian Burnett family and the Carl Morawitz family in cotton; SwarmFarm Robotics' Andrew and Josie Bate in robotic farming. In the citrus industry there is Craig Pressler; Craig Meyer is also in citrus. In the sugar industry, Dale Hollis and Alan Dingle; Craig Myer from Mundubbera is also in citrus. They are health and emergency workers. They are small business, SMEs and large businesses; mum and dad businesses. To my constituents of Flynn: keep up the hard work, forward thinking and determination. You all have a right to be well-represented in parliament, and I sincerely thank you for your votes of confidence in me. It has been an honour and a pleasure to serve you. I will close on this note. God bless you all. I thank the House. Thank you.
on indulgence—Just while the member for Flynn is receiving his rightful congratulations, I would like to make a brief comment. Kenny, as he's known, is a reflection of Central Queensland, he's a reflection of people in small business and he is underestimated. So often people didn't understand that Kenny O'Dowd was—and is—a very successful business person, running pubs, fuel businesses, properties and racehorses—although I don't know whether they're as successful as everything else. He is also a great reflection of Australia. People feel a sense of comfort that there is a bloke like Kenny O'Dowd in the parliament. So to Kenny O'Dowd, and especially to Shirley, Ben and Amber, I would like to put on the record that Australia has been incredibly well served by looking across the chamber and seeing a person like Kenny O'Dowd.
on indulgence—Ken is my neighbour. We know him as Kenny, and in the parliament, they know him as the bulldog. Ken is someone where the party would always ring and say, 'We're worried about Flynn; we're worried about Ken.' I'd say: 'I don't know what you're worried about. This is a guy who sponsors a race at every country race club.'
As the Deputy Prime Minister outlined, he's delivered fuel, he's worked in Bougainville, he's had pubs, and he's got this interest in horseracing. I did say to Ken one day: 'You don't mind a punt. How much have you been involved?' He said, 'I've had a couple of horses.' I said, 'What's a couple?' He said, 'I had over 25 in work at one stage.' In fact the tax office used to ring him every fortnight and ask him to declare himself as a professional, to which I'm told he declined. I'm sure it's a great relief for Shirley to know that is still something that he looks at every single day.
But as my neighbour, my friend and my colleague, I thank Kenny for his contribution to our local communities. He's a good man. It's that simple. So thank you to the member for Flynn for his service. He has been a great friend. I hope he enjoys his retirement with Shirley. We certainly look forward to his continued contribution in a different role. Ken, once again, we'll see you in Bundy, in Gladstone, in the regions, because that's your home.
on indulgence—To both the member for Nicholls and the member for Flynn, and to their respective spouses, Ros and Shirley, I wish you all the very best. May Damian and Ken's horses run well and may the sun shine warmly on their faces. All the best for the future.
on indulgence—This morning we have been fortunate to hear three very personal, important and inspiring speeches. There has been a common thread that has run through all of those speeches, in Drummy's, in JA's and in the Bulldog's. For all three of these men who have served this parliament, all three would struggle to find an enemy on either that side or on this side of the House. You all have friends right across the aisle, and it is a mark of the gentlemen that you are.
After such a long night, where we sat here until around about 5 am in the morning, and many of us are living on a little amount of sleep, the way we've started the parliament this morning is inspiring for us all. It reminds those of us who are contesting the next election why we're here and how to do our job better. On behalf of the Labor Party: thank you very, very much for your service to this place and to our country. To your loved ones and to your staff: thank you for your service to you as individuals and to our country. We wish you all the very, very best in the next chapter of your lives.