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Monday, 19 June 2000
Page: 17572


Mr LEO McLEAY (2:43 PM) —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for the chance today to say something about Greg Wilton and his life. I have been here for a while and during that period there has only ever been one condolence motion for a person who died while still a member, and that was the then Minister for Finance in 1981. They were condolence speeches you could listen to. Even though those members of the government of the time knew Eric Robinson well, it was a life you could talk about; you could talk about how that man had lived a life. With Greg it is a condolence where you are only halfway there: you know half of Greg's life, you know what potential he had and you know what a decent man he was, but you are not able to reflect on what it would have been. I think that is one of the very sad parts about today. Too often here we get overtaken by some of the things that the Chief Government Whip just spoke about.

I am about 10 years older than Greg, but I remember reading Bonfire of the Vanities when I was his age. I thought it was a fascinating, interesting and witty book, and I recognised in the book a lot of people I knew; many of them were my friends. They were all the masters of the universe. If you read Bonfire of the Vanities, you will recognise as masters of the universe many people in this house. The trouble is that we try to convince ourselves that we all have to become masters of the universe. As the Manager of Opposition Business said earlier, too often we see this place as the breeding ground of the executive. I think one of the mistakes we make is that we have forgotten about the role of the parliamentarian. There are things you can do here other than be a minister. Ministers come and ministers go, as the Public Service will tell you—and they live on forever; but who was the minister two back? If you are going to spend your life here, you can do other things. You do not have to get into the competitive bind that is destroying a lot of people's lives here.

We have heard a lot today about the potential of Greg Wilton. He was, I think, shaping up to be a good parliamentarian. The contribution of the member for Riverina, who talked about some of the things she found with Greg Wilton as a new member, was a very good one. I think nearly everyone who was on the economics committee with Greg who has spoken in this debate has told about a side of Greg Wilton that the rest of us may not have seen. I saw it, and the other whips in my office saw it: Greg was a bloke who had a great deal of ability.

We have seen some pretty terrible things in the newspapers recently about Greg—some by journalists and some by people who prompted journalists. But I think the one thing we should lay to rest today is the terrible canard that he was a loner. Greg Wilton was not a loner, and the people in his electorate office and the people in his electorate do not think Greg was a loner. The people who were on the parliamentary committee with him do not think he was a loner. The people whose offices are in the same corridor as his do not think he was a loner. The two other opposition whips and I, who used to go to the movies with him on Thursday nights, do not think he was a loner. He used to come into my office every day, and my office is a pretty sad place today. My staff do not think he was a loner. Greg Wilton was not a loner. He was only as alone as any of us here. He had a life here, he did his job, and he got scared by some of the masters of the universe. He found that very hard to cope with sometimes. All of us have those ups and down, and as a surfer—I have not been a surfer but some of my friends have—



Mr LEO McLEAY —The opposition whip says he can understand my not being a surfer. I think Greg's problem was that he hit a couple of bad waves together, and they became a dumper for him. As the Chief Government Whip has said, all of us who work here probably do not take enough care of each other. It is a competitive environment. I suppose that is the Westminster system of government. It is interesting to note that some of the European parliaments are less competitive, because they do not have a winner-takes-all system. People have to work with others rather than taking an `us and them' approach.

At the end of today, we do not just need to discharge our sorrow, our obligation or whatever we think we have to Greg or to ourselves. We need to try to come to grips with some of the things that affected his life and caused him to take his life. I was interested to hear what the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation and the Chief Government Whip said about knowing people who have suicided. Greg Wilton is the only friend I have ever had who has suicided, so this is a frightening experience for me. My children have had friends who have suicided, and I have seen the effect that it has had on them. I suspect it is having that effect on me too.

There should not be enough drama in being a member of parliament to cause us to do that, but, if there is, we all have an obligation to put out a hand to try to help the person through it. One of the ways we can do that is to focus on the fact that there are a number of roles that we can have in this parliament. Sure, some of us can become ministers. The odd one or two—some would say that they have to be odd to do it—will become party leaders and prime ministers. But there is a role for all of us who have been so lucky and so smiled upon by our parties and our constituents that they have put us here. That is our role. I think if we concentrated on that a bit more, maybe the competitiveness might not be so overwhelming for some people.

I also take up the point of the government whip that we all do need some outside help from time to time. If you look at some of the things that have happened to some of us—with the massive marriage breakdowns that occur here, and things in extremis like that which happened to Greg—this industry has a pretty poor occupational health and safety record. Any other employer would probably end up in the courts for it, and we probably ought to do something seriously about it ourselves.

But condolence resolutions should also be a way of celebrating someone's life, and today we are celebrating Greg's life, cut short as it was. Greg's kids will be able to read this later on and know that the story in the paper about their father being a loner is a lie, because I have not seen so many people stand up here and say things so sincerely in a long, long while. They will also know that their father was someone who made a very considerable and interesting contribution in this place. I am a little deaf, but I used to hear his interjections down here. I used to have a bit of a rule when I was Speaker that all interjections are disorderly, but witty ones can be tolerated. A lot of Greg's interjections were quite funny and more than tolerable.

The work he did on the finance committee was good and in Australia's interest, and the work he did for his constituents was good and in their interests. Today we should celebrate Greg Wilton's life and, to genuinely celebrate Greg Wilton's life, we should try in his honour to be a little kinder to each other. That way, maybe we will not have any more Greg Wilton problems—although I do not mean any more Greg Wilton `problems'. I think Greg Wilton would never want the same thing to happen to anyone else here that happened to him. Let us try to do that for him.