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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 401

Mr HUSIC (ChifleyGovernment Whip) (11:46): Having been elected in 2010, like my colleague the member for Kooyong, I have not had as much as others to do with the fourth estate, camped down the hallway in the press gallery. But I did get to meet a number of characters in a short space of time. Some of them can drive you to this blissful plane of distraction and albeit occasionally infrequent frustration. One bloke I had the genuine pleasure of getting to know as he went about with his scrawny beard broken up with a grin that had a good load of cheek in it was Peter Veness. The scrawny beard came about for a reason that too many people knew. In late 2010 I came to appreciate why he had grown that beard. I got swept up to go into a fundraiser at the National Press Club to raise funds for cancer research. Pete had his beard shaven off as a broader effort to raise funds for cancer research.

In dealing with Pete he never gave you a sense of what he was going through. He masked it so well. He was literally an emotional rock. But if you wanted an insight into what he was going through you just needed to Google the feature he wrote in 2009. I certainly commend that to people. Not only did he share in the trials and the difficulty that cancer patients go through in their treatment but you are enamoured with his spunk and with his fighting spirit.

I want to reflect on some of that. I loved when he said, for example:

The doctors give me little hope. Stuff the doctors who have already killed me; they don't tell me when to die. These are the same doctors who told me they would eat their hats if there were any tumours on my spine. Well, get out your knives and forks, boys, and chow down on those Akubras.

That is the attitude and spirit that drew me to Pete Veness, and it drew a lot of people to him.

We would bump into each other from time to time and you would have no sense of what he was going through. But when we did, he and I folded arms in a corner of the gallery, sorting out issues nimbly and with ease, him razzing me and me trying to get one up on him. These moments and stories were shared by many. The impact of the bloke, as seen by the outpouring of emotion after the terrible events of Sunday, 15 January, really spoke volumes. The power of Pete was that he could make you laugh through your tears. A lot of us would recount the good in him and want to measure up to that good ourselves. A number of pieces that were written and a number of words that were said have left an impact on me. Chris Johnson, writing on 20 January, recounted a number of stories, but he summed it up neatly when he said:

This cannot be a dispassionate piece of writing, because Veness was not a dispassionate person. A larrikin's larrikin by any reckoning. Loud and boisterous, yet with a heart as big as his cheeky grin. And a sensitivity that could make you weep.

I also love:

He taught all his blokey friends that it was okay to say "I love you, brother" and really mean it.

Chris Johnson also recounted how, after Pete's high-school days at Gilgandra, he and his family settled in Bathurst, where Peter studied journalism at Charles Sturt University:

It was from where he sought out again the sweetheart he first met in Gilgandra, Bec Bignell. Long-time partners, they married after his diagnosis.

To Bec, and to his folks, David and Cheryl, I extend my deepest condolences.

I was unable to attend his funeral service or the wake afterwards because I was overseas, but I did keep tabs on what people were saying and the outpouring of emotion that I mentioned earlier. One article about it reads:

AAP colleague Adam Gartrell said Pete - as he was known - embodied many of the best things about the craft of journalism. Pete believed the best story he ever wrote was a yarn about a farmer doing it tough, which he got by striking up a conversation with a random guy at a pub out bush. "That was pure Pete. He may have written about elections, political spills and scandals, but writing about the plight of the common man was what really made his heart sing," Gartrell said.

His wife, Bec, was quoted:

She said many had remarked it was a tragedy that someone so young had lost his battle with cancer. "He didn't lose. He kicked cancer's arse every day for almost three years," she said. "He got out of bed every single day up until a month ago."

It is these types of things that moved people about Peter—the strength within him but everything still done with class.

But for a smart bloke he made bad sporting choices. I told you about all the razzing that he did of me. He would razz me about my support of the Chicago Bulls basketball team, and he countered it with his misplaced support for the Utah Jazz. At this point I would like to advise the ABC's Latika Bourke, who says that not many people follow the NBA, that she should talk to some of her colleagues, because Pete was a mad fan. He would talk to me about the greats of the Utah Jazz—Stockton, Malone, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams. Back and forth on Twitter or Facebook, he and I would be talking about the NBA and swapping insults. We were joined by a long-term mate of mine who I discovered later is actually his cousin, Todd Clewett. If Pete Veness were in this place right now, he would dare me to do this, to put on the colours of the Utah Jazz. There are not too many teams that I would do this for, but for Pete, and in respect of his cheek, I will do it this one time and I will say, 'I love you, brother.'