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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 406


Mr MORRISON (Cook) (12:10): I rise today to offer my condolences to a well-loved and respected member of the community of this place, Peter Veness, known to his mates as Pete. I also particularly rise here today to offer the condolences of a member of my staff, Julian Leembruggen, who was a dear and very close friend of Pete and would often be in Canberra over the term of their friendship, which goes back to university days, and spent many times with Peter, particularly during the last period of his life.

I was privileged to attend the service in Pete's remembrance and honour in Canberra a few weeks ago, joining other colleagues, including the Prime Minister. I am sure Pete would have been very pleased to see so many of his journalist friends in church. It would have been something that I am sure he would have been encouraging them all to do in his own way. The way I think he would have done that most of all would be through the example of his own life, because we all know those actions speak louder than any words we might say ourselves.

I wasn't a close friend of Peter's but I met him as many people in this place had—that is, on the doors of Parliament House. I think one of the great tributes that were made to Peter at the service was that, despite the hard questions and the strange angles they came from at times, which were always based on the good solid research that Pete was well known for—as the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, it was something for which the Director-General of ASIO commented favourably on him—it was without malice and it was without guile; it was nothing more than just a very professional person who believed in what he was doing and was seeking to get straight answers from all of us.

Pete joined the parliamentary press gallery in 2006 and quickly established himself as a talented and eager journalist. His enthusiasm and old-school style, Julian tells me, won over his colleagues and earned the respect of politicians of all stripes. I think we can all attest to that, and the tributes that have been flowing in this place back that up. Like many members, I encountered him on the doors and occasionally we would have the opportunity to chat afterwards. One particular occasion I had the opportunity, particularly as he went through his illness, to talk about some of the things that were going on in his own life at that time and how he was dealing with them, as I know many people in this place had the privilege to do—and they have said so in this place today.

There have been many tributes to Pete. Phil Hudson, the president of the press gallery, said Pete's 'great determination to live life to its fullest' and his refusal to give in was an inspiration to many of his colleagues. The Prime Minister commended his 'fight for life with every fibre of his being'. The Acting Leader of the Opposition at the time of Peter's passing remembered Pete as 'one of those genuinely nice guys who always had a beaming smile and a time for a chat and a laugh'. The AAP editor-in-chief, Tony Gillies, said Pete confronted the gravity of his illness early and 'stood defiant, disarmingly talking about his own prospects in such a matter-of-fact way that was often delivered with a sense of humour'. Pete's father, David, gave a very poignant portrait of his son as someone who was not only a dedicated journalist but also someone who, in his short life, made a significant contribution to humanity, especially by teaching people how to love. I can think of no greater commendation than that. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs said earlier in this place, Pete was known for who he was, not what he did, and for the substance of the man. That is something that I think we would all aspire to. Pete certainly lived that. For his father to be able to say that of a son, or for any parent to be able to say that of a child, would fulfil any parent's greatest aspiration for their children. It is such a tragedy that he had to say it so soon in Pete's young life. For those of us who had the opportunity to meet him and get to know him a bit, it was one of the hard things to understand—he was only 27. A fellow such as this, who had developed such wisdom, such insight, and such fullness of personality, was still at such a young age. Therein lies the great tragedy of this story. The potential, the opportunity, the contribution, the love, the care, the relationships—these are the things that we mourned when we gathered in Canberra just a few weeks ago.

I recall most vividly one thing after walking out of what was an absolutely inspirational service. The tributes were great, they were often witty—you would expect that; his mates were journos. They know how to write and they know how to put words together, and they certainly did on that day, and they did a wonderful job in giving testimony to their mate. But the one thing that came out of that story, which is such a sad story, was the issue of hope. It is such a refreshing thing in this day and age that in the midst of such tragedy you can walk out of a service such as that and reflect on the fact that there is hope. Pete embodied hope; he embodied hope against all circumstances. He lived for hope. He triumphed hope and championed it every single day that he cherished in those few remaining years that he had left.

His family and friends will attest that Pete was a generous, kind young man who, while often brash and uncompromising, was innately generous and selfless. This spirit helped Pete fight with a fierce will to live and a resolute hope that treatments, tests, setbacks and bad news rarely dampened. It was a spirit that, even in the midst of his own suffering, drove him to help others, such as raising funds for youth cancer charities like the Warwick Foundation, and famously involving the growth of perhaps the most confronting facial hair—Julian writes here—ever to grace these halls; I can well remember that beard and the shaving of it on a particular occasion here in Canberra. Hundreds of mourners said farewell to Pete at St John's Anglican Church, and it was good to be there amongst them.

At that service, reference was made to an article that Pete wrote in 2009, and it was a very honest article. Pete's honesty, in the little I knew of him, was incredibly confronting but it was like the sword that divides sinew and flesh. His honesty penetrated. In this article he wrote about his cancer. He said, 'I pray at night, asking my God the seeming simplest of questions: will you save me?' In that article he wrote, 'I have not heard back yet.' In this piece Pete wrote, in the midst of a struggle, about his will to live a life of no regrets. This is something that he not only wrote but lived every day of his illness. At Pete's funeral, the Reverend Margaret Campbell comforted all of us in attendance with her homily. She told us that Pete would be the first person to tell you that God did not cause his cancer. God does not send us suffering to teach us things, but in suffering we can sure learn. We learn that we are not invulnerable and that life surely ends in death from the first breath we take. We learn that sometimes we have no control over the things that happen to us but we do have control over how we react to them. Put simply, we all choose how to respond to life. She went on to say:

I can tell you that before he died, he did hear back. Pete knew that through God's love he was saved, he was upheld, he was sure of the promise of eternal life, and was still able to give God glory until his last days.

It is a tribute to Pete's spirit and an inspiration for us to stand for our beliefs and pursue what is right and fight for what is worth fighting for. Pete is survived by his wife and inspirational life partner Bec, his parents David and Cheryl and brother Tim and sister Lara. He will be fondly remembered by all of them, I am sure, all the days of their lives and he will be fondly remembered by his good mates including Julian Leembruggen and others in the gallery and all of those who comforted him and were inspired by him over his last days. I am sure all my colleagues here and everyone in this place will join with me in offering them our great comfort, with a sense of sympathy and regret, while at the same time joining in that sense of hope that was so evident in that service.

Of all the tributes, I think the one Pete would have valued most greatly is the one given to him as he met his heavenly father, who would have said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'