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Thursday, 27 September 2001
Page: 31770


Mr LEO McLEAY (7:10 PM) —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, but don't feel happy; I am not retiring! To those who are retiring, I would like to wish them well in their retirement and in the life that is ahead of them. I would like to say a few words about three of those: Neil O'Keefe, Colin Hollis and Michael Ronaldson. I thought it was very appropriate that Neil O'Keefe was not here this afternoon when the Leader of the Opposition wished him well in his retirement, because my leader found out what I had known about Neil all the time: Neil is the only person I know who is always more late for things than I am— and I have a fairly notorious reputation for that. Neil was always one of those fellows who worked well in the bush. He always put the argument for regional Australia when we were in government and when we were in opposition and was always a pretty straight shooter. I think that Neil has had a good life here, and I am sure he will enjoy his retirement.

Colin Hollis was a member of this place for a long while. He started out in the very marginal seat of Macarthur and ended up in Throsby, which I think is the safest or second safest Labor seat in the country.



Mr LEO McLEAY —Safer than mine, Parliamentary Secretary. Colin was one of those people who made a specialty of the committee system in this House. A lot of people come here and think that, if you do not become a minister, somehow or other you have failed in your life. I have always thought that there is a role here for people who want to be parliamentarians. Colin Hollis was one of those people. Colin put his life in this parliament into the Public Works Committee. He was the chairman of it for many years and at present I think he is the deputy chairman of that committee. A lot of people, when they first get here, think there is no point being on the Public Works Committee but Hollis worked out that, if you get on the Public Works Committee, you see Australia three or four times, and it pays you TA all the way through, so it is not a bad little earner.

When Colin first became a member of the Public Works Committee, it had a lot more of a remit than the current committee does. As the Commonwealth has moved out of public works and taken a lot of the infrastructure projects off-budget, there is not as much now for the Public Works Committee to do. Colin Hollis made that committee. He put a lot of his life into it, as he did into the Human Rights Subcommittee of the Joint Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee. Colin is one of those people whom you could say did not ever seek ministerial office but was a good parliamentarian.

I now come to Michael Ronaldson. I think I just heard one of the longest speeches that Ronno ever made. That was rather interesting for all of us. He made it without notes, so that was exceptionally interesting. Ronno is one of those people who, even though you tried to dislike him, you just cannot get around to doing it.


Mr McMullan —Well, try harder!


Mr LEO McLEAY —I have been trying hard. In the last six years, I have worn out three government whips, and Ronno has escaped unscathed.


Mr Hardgrave —He is leaving.


Mr LEO McLEAY —That is right, but that is one way of escaping. What a lot of people forget about Michael is that he went through a terrible health crisis in his life. There are a few people in this place who have beaten cancer, and he is one of them. At that time, he was a shadow minister, and I think that health crisis put a bit of a dint in his capacity to get onto the frontbench. When we look from this side across to the current frontbench, there are about eight or nine of them, mate, that you are far better thanfar better! I think one of the mistakes the government made was not to make you a minister. The one thing I have always found about Michael is that he will not lie to you—he does not necessarily tell you the truth, but he will not lie to you—and he will always keep his word. He is just a nice person to get on with.

Michael, it is a shame to see you go, but I think you are going for all the right reasons. This job does destroy marriages and it does destroy families. We probably have the greatest number of proportionate marriage breakdowns of any business. This job also puts a lot of stress on your wife and children. It has mainly been wives and children, though now we have a lot more female members, which in some ways might humanise this place a little bit more because they are not willing to put up with the old hours and ways of work that have dominated this building for a long while. So I think you are making the decision for the right reason. I am sorry to see you go—I will admit that. I have always found you to be a good friend.

I would also like to say a couple of things about my two deputies, Bob Sercombe and Rod Sawford. They do all the hard work for me and I get more pay than they do.


Mr Slipper —They can count.


Mr LEO McLEAY —I keep telling them, `If you win a division, you can have my job.' Fortunately, the system made sure they haven't. Though they got close one day. At the end of that day, I thought that either you were out of a job or I was out of a job. It was hard to work it out.


Mr McMullan —They nearly got both of you.


Mr LEO McLEAY —That is right. To Bob and Rod, thank you for all the work that you have done over this term. I also thank Joan and Ann. A lot of colleagues say—and I am sure that Michael's colleagues say the same thing to him—that we get the glory but the people who actually run the Whip's offices are Joan and Geraldine. They actually think that too, and they also tell everyone that behind our backs, mate. That is the really galling thing.


Mr Slipper —But it is true.


Mr LEO McLEAY —Yes, it is true. That is one of the few things that you have said that is correct, Slipper—that is true.


Mr McMullan —You did some damage when you opposed him; you destroyed him when you agreed with him. You will never hear the end of it now.


Mr LEO McLEAY —Now that Slipper has entered into this debate, before I sit down I am going to tell you all the worst Slipper story any of you have ever heard.


Mr Slipper —I'm going.


Mr LEO McLEAY —I will finish what I was going to say and then I will do the Slipper story. Joan and Ann in my office and the lovely Leander and Geraldine, who are in Michael's office, are the four people who do the work for us. They do an excellent job. I would particularly like to thank Joan and Ann but also Geraldine and Leander for the cooperation that they give my staff. I also thank the government whips who aren't too cocky to Bob and Rod when they do not win a division.

But I said that I would get square with Slipper with a Slipper story. Quite some years ago, when Peter first came into this parliament, his first outing in this place was as a member of the National Party—some of you will remember that; a lot of you will try not to remember—and then he joined the Liberals. We will not have him; we definitely will not have him. He actually did try to join us, but we wouldn't have him.


Mrs Sullivan —Misleading the parliament!


Mr LEO McLEAY —In those days there was a committee that was called the House of Representatives Expenditure Committee, which has now metamorphosed into the banking committee. We had just reformed it and there had been a little bit of work behind the scenes. As you all know, a government member has to be elected as the chairman of a parliamentary committee. The National Party members of that committee had the idea that one of their members should be the chairman of that committee. That suited me because I was going to be the deputy chairman of the committee and Stephen Lusher and I were quite good friends. I had worked out a little arrangement with him and we went along and voted for Lusher to be the chairman of the committee.

I was sitting around with some of my colleagues a little later after we had won the election and I had become the chairman of the committee, and Ros Kelly said, `Whose this new member, Slipper? Who is he?' One of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless, said, `Oh, he's that new member from Queensland with a head like a robber's dog.' About one second later, Slipper walks into the meeting. He sits down and he wants to throw his weight around straightaway. I said, `Well, hang on, we've got to elect a chairman first,' and he says, `I will not be muzzled.' So don't interject on me, sport! I think it was due to that committee work that Colin Hollis was enthused to take the journey that he took through this House, that Neil O'Keefe became a parliamentary secretary and a shadow minister and that Michael Ronaldson became a shadow minister, a Chief Whip—and, as I have said, he would have made an excellent minister. It is a shame that he did not stay around to do that.

I hope you enjoy your retirement, Michael. I am sure that, in the years to come, when your kids ring, they will want to talk to you as much as they will want to talk to their mother. You have a good retirement and a good life because you deserve it.