Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 15 June 2011
Page: 2895


Senator BARNETT (Tasmania) (16:20): It has been a privilege serving as a senator for Tasmania since February 2002. Despite the ups and downs of political life I have loved serving and advocating for Tasmania, the Liberal cause and the values that I believe in. I have particularly enjoyed speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, always striving to make a difference with a can-do attitude—not always successful but always striving.

I had a dream as a child to serve in federal parliament and that dream came true. I have lived the dream and I am thankful. I joined the Liberal Party in 1980, 31 years ago. I was underage and in my first year at the University of Tasmania law school. I am a long-term Liberal. I believe in the merits of smaller government, lower taxes and greater individual freedoms. I believe in the centrality of family, the inherent qualities of each individual, the ladder of opportunity and choice. I believe in the basic freedoms of our parliamentary democracy, freedom of thought, worship, speech and association. I believe in a fair go and a safety net for those who need it. I have appreciated providing a voice for small business—the backbone of our economy—and promoting the spirit of enterprise that is so important to our prosperity as a nation. For more than half of my time in this place I was part of a coalition government under the stewardship of John Howard and Peter Costello that delivered economic sunshine, paid off Labor's debt and left this country on a sound financial footing. I am proud to have served as part of that government and to have later contributed to the task of holding the Labor government to account in opposition.

As I reflect upon the last 9½ years, there have been some highlights, special memories, sad moments and lessons learned. I will now share some of those. Most colleagues in this place and in my community know of my passion for a healthier, more active Australia. I have held 10 healthy lifestyle forums to help combat childhood obesity and to address other important health issues. I played a key role in the establishment of the Active After-Schools Communities program, imple­menting two hours of PE in schools per week, in fast food and tuckshop reforms and in making obesity a national health priority. I produced and edited the book The Millennium DiseaseResponses To Australia's Obesity Epidemic.

I established, very importantly, the Tasmanian Pollie Pedal, modelled on the national Pollie Pedal, which was initiated by the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, some 14 years ago. Cyclists in Tony's nine to 10 day Pollie Pedal go further and faster than those in the Tasmanian three-day version. In Tasmania we spend more time taking in beautiful scenery, the wineries, cheese and chocolate factories, and each year we raise funds for people who have diabetes in Tasmania. Some say we end up heavier at the end of it than at the beginning. I do acknowledge the Leader of the Opposition in the chamber today and thank him for his presence.

Obesity already costs this nation an estimated $58 billion per annum and chronic disease, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer, makes up 80 per cent of all health costs in Australia. But you ain't seen nothing yet. The obesity tsunami and its consequences are coming and we must prepare for it now with more healthy active lifestyles, particularly for our children.

I have been privileged to be a founding and executive member of the Parliamentary Diabetes Support Group. I particularly want to recognise the chair of that group in the chamber today, the Hon. Judi Moylan, for her outstanding leadership and also all the executive and other members of this bipartisan group which does such important work.

Last night the Parliamentary Diabetes Support Group held a dinner in my honour with over 70 people and at which my good friend and obesity diabetes guru Professor Paul Zimmet was guest speaker. At that dinner, Lewis Kaplan, CEO of Diabetes Australia, who is in the chamber today, announced my appointment as the inaugural Diabetes Australia ambassador. This is indeed a great honour. My thanks to Diabetes Australia for the opportunity to be an advocate while following a passion that I love. The CEO of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Mike Wilson, also gave me 'the boot'. The boot is an award bestowed on only 10 Australians in the last 20 years for services to Australians living with type 1 or juvenile diabetes. I cherish this honour and here it is. It is not always enjoyable to get 'the boot', but last night it was!

In addition, I was recently appointed as a delegate for the western Pacific to the International Diabetes Federation. Indeed, that is a great honour. I note the United Nations Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases in New York in September this year—an important conference where we need high-level representation. I look forward to working with others to make a difference in the diabetes community.

As the only member in the parliament with type 1 diabetes, I am particularly pleased to take up these appointments. Thank you to the senators in this place for your patience when I have needed to do a blood sugar check or to grab a few jellybeans for a sugar hit. I have over 2,000 finger pricks per year and have had more than 30,000 finger pricks since I was diagnosed on my wife's birthday on 15 January 1997. These daily finger pricks are an important feature in the lives of the 140,000 Australians with type 1 diabetes.

As a reminder of healthy, active lifestyles, I will be giving every federal member of parliament in the next few days a pedometer. Parliament has 22 kilometres of corridor, so I hope they are well used. Beyond the walls of parliament, I also believe there is great merit in all MPs and senators being actively involved in some form of sport or recreation both for their own sake and as an example to our community. MPs know I am enthusiastic particularly about tennis, swimming, cycling and squash, but I commend all MPs to have a go, no matter at what level, and I acknow­ledge the great work and encouragement of Andy Turnbull of the Australian Parliamentary Sports Association in this regard.

In my time in the Senate I have also sought to be a voice for volunteers, who remain undervalued and underrecognised in our community. They are Australia's unsung heroes. My first major submission as a senator in 2002 was to the then Prime Minister John Howard on how we can help our volunteers. Working with emergency services and other volunteers during the Beaconsfield mine disaster in 2006 and the Tasmanian east coast bushfires are memories that I will never forget. The annual Thank You to our Volunteers event that I have hosted since 2008 with Volunteering Tasmania and with the support of sponsors like Tasmanian Independent Retailers has been well appreciated. Volunteers deserve support and we can all do more to provide support and encouragement to our volun­teers.

Fighting for and defending family values has always been important to me, as I know it is for many in this place. Helping secure funding for the National Schools Chaplaincy program was a highlight, as was gaining Mr Howard's support for defining marriage as between a man and a woman in legislation in 2004 with bipartisan support. They stand out as highlights, as do receiving the William Wilberforce Award in 2007 and the Australian Christian Values Institute Award just this year.

Marriage is a bedrock institution. It provides an umbrella under which children can grow and be nurtured and loved. In my view, homosexual marriage will deny children any opportunity to know and be loved by both a mother and a father. The debate to date has been too adult centred and, in my view, that is disappointing. If the community hold these same values they need to express them publicly and passionately to their local political representatives as a priority before it is too late.

It has been an honour to work with veterans. It is vital we pay honour and respect to those in our Defence Force both past and present who serve so that we can all enjoy the freedoms that we have today. I also briefly comment on the ongoing challenge of terrorism, of which we must be vigilant. That fateful day on September 11, 2001 changed the world. Australia has a vital role to play in international efforts to fight terrorism both in its traditional forms and in the ever more relevant area of cybercrime and cyber­terrorism. I walked the Kokoda Track in 2008 with Bruce Scott, the Scottsdale RSL President who is in the gallery today, together with Marco Fragiacomo and 15 others. We raised over $150,000 for the juvenile diabetes research—a great effort. Our other objective was to honour the veterans. We did that. On my return I reignited the effort, with others and with the support of the RSL, to officially recognise the service of the PNG nationals, affec­tionately known as 'fuzzy wuzzy angels'. The Rudd government did this and I thank them for it. I acknowledge the PNG High Commissioner in the gallery today, who I know is delighted with this outcome.

Last year I visited Hell Fire Pass and the Thai-Burma railway with four former POWs and Senator John Williams—a special event. My great uncle served as a POW for 3½ years under the Japanese. I have been privileged to visit Gallipoli, the Western Front battlefields in France, the Changi war cemetery in Singapore and the war cemeteries in Jerusalem and Beersheba, Israel. In 2010 the planned national tour of a display regarding Australia's Gallipoli VC winners did not include Tasmania—yes, Tasmania was left off the map! I was pleased to then lead what was a classic grassroots campaign with a petition launch, support from the RSL and a successful Senate motion. In the end, more than 20,000 Tasmanians visited the exhibition.

With the support of the Tasmanian RSL I authored the book Our Heroes: Tasmania's Victoria Cross Recipients. The third edition was recently launched at Australia's oldest RSL in Launceston. Among those recognised in that book is Lieutenant Colonel Harry Murray VC, Australia's most highly decorated soldier whose medals and personal effects are on display in Tasmania right now for the first time ever available to the public. It was my privilege to play a key role in bringing this display to Harry Murray's home state and to see that he was honoured with a life-sized statue in his home town of Evandale in 2006. Harry Murray VC should receive further recognition, including the posthumous awarding of the Distinguished Service Medal from the United States and a memorial in Guedecourt, France, where he earned his VC in February 1917. I have written letters requesting this recognition with the support of the Tasmanian RSL.

The current government is now inquiring into the possible awarding of Victoria Crosses to those who may have been, for one reason or another, overlooked in earlier years. Prior to this, there were efforts for Tasmanian Ordinary Seaman Teddy Sheean to be posthumously recognised with a VC, and it has been a pleasure for me to have worked with Garry Ivory, nephew of Teddy Sheean, and other members of the Sheean family, on this campaign since last year. There are also emerging efforts to recognise Leading Cook Francis Bassett, or 'Dick' Emms, of Launceston, whose name has been put forward in the course of this inquiry. The courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice of our armed service men and women should never be forgotten. As the good book says, 'Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.' Lest we forget.

Early in my Senate career I recall the perfect political day. The day began with a visit to the Fusion community centre at Poatina in Tasmania, a place where much tremendous work is done. Fusion is an international youth and community organisation which helps socially at-risk young people and which, in particular, has over 250 staff and thousands of volunteers in this country and overseas. Then together with former Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Richard Alston, via a CDMA phone, I officially opened the CDMA telecommunications network into the Central Highlands of Tasmania. I can see Senator Colbeck smiling. I think he knows where I am going. After a pleasant chat with locals and a small snack at the Miena hotel, I drove 20 minutes to Arthurs Lake, took off my jacket, took off my tie, pulled on my waders and pulled out the fly rod. I caught a beautiful brown trout and happily drove home to the family in Launceston with the trout for dinner. The perfect political day.

However a memorable and embarrassing moment on a lighter note occurred when, as a trout fishing enthusiast, as you have all gathered, and a fly fisherman, I was invited to award a prize at a trout fishing com­petition. During the speech on a warm summer's day, I swallowed a fly. I swallowed a fly in full view of the audience and, yes, it was the revenge of the fly.

From 2008 until 2010 I also served as the coalition's scrutiny of government waste spokesman, first under our former leader Malcolm Turnbull and then under Tony Abbott. My role was to highlight government waste and mismanagement in the parliament and to the public, and it is fair to say the current Labor government gave me plenty to do! I helped to establish inquiries into the GroceryChoice website, the pink batts fiasco and the Building the Education Revolution. I see Senator Mason in front of me nodding desperately. Well done on all your good work, Senator Mason. I issued monthly flyers and produced annual reports cataloguing Labor's waste, inefficiency and mismanagement, and continued my longstanding practice of hosting a budget breakfast in partnership with KPMG in my home town of Launceston the morning after the federal budget.

This work culminated, however, in the work that I did to help establish a Parliamentary Budget Office in this country. On 24 June last year, the 'night of the long knives', as the nation was informed that it had a new Prime Minister, I introduced legislation on behalf of the coalition to establish a Parliamentary Budget Office. My initiative was initially criticised profusely by a Labor government cabinet minister. However, the government has now confirmed, in the latest budget, funding of $24.9 million over four years to implement this important initiative. At this point I would also like to acknowledge and thank Philip Clayton, my principal adviser, for his excellent work in assisting on these matters.

Governments of all persuasions focus on the short term, but this government has attempted to master the 'quick political fix'. It has not worked and today's polls attest to that. We should focus more on the long term with 10-, 20- and 50-year plans—a lesson former US President Bill Clinton shared at the World Diabetes Summit in 2008 when he said, 'I wished I had spent more time focusing on the trendlines than the headlines.' We should do more visioneering—focusing on what should be rather than what could be.

The media, the fourth estate, has an important role to play as it facilitates debate and discussion within our nation. Its influence is massive. This is indeed a great responsibility. It is easy to criticise, denigrate and belittle those who have chosen the path of public service, but this is not always in the national interest. If we as a nation are to regain the capacity for real reform and to shape our destiny, the media must play their part in recognising effort worthy of praise and the merit of long-term planning, while at the same time holding public office holders to account. My wife, Kate, and I have supported the National Student Leadership Forum every year since 2002 and, in recent years, together with Senator Claire Moore, I have sponsored the forum. It opens the eyes of young people to our democracy and the role of faith and values in leadership. A key theme at those events has been that of servant leadership . But on this score there is no better role model than Jesus Christ, whose life and sacrifice were the ultimate example of servant leadership. I submit that he is indeed a model of leadership relevant to all of us.

At this time I would also acknowledge my good friend Jock Cameron for his work in convening and driving the National Student Leadership Forum since its inception. Jock and his wonderful team have also played a key role in relation to the National Prayer Breakfast. I have very much enjoyed his fellowship on Monday nights, with other MPs—including Scott Morrison, who is in the chamber today; I acknowledge Scott's presence—in this parliament for the duration of my time in the Senate. Jock, thanks very much for your support.

My involvement with the National Student Leadership Forum also provided me with one of the most confronting and saddest moments in my Senate career, when, together with a delegation of students, I visited Docker River, an isolated Indigenous community two to three hours south-west of Uluru. The near Third World conditions were both obvious and a shock, and brought home to me the need for us to do more as a nation to address the challenges facing Indigenous Australians.

The Senate plays a vital role in our democracy. The checks and balances work. The scrutiny of legislation, executive government and the financial affairs of our country remain important functions. The committee system is effective, and the estimates process both illuminating and at times exhausting. In regard to these specific functions of the Senate, I have recently written to the President and others making suggestions for reform, particularly regarding sitting hours and healthy food options.

In recent years I have particularly enjoyed my role as both Chair and Deputy Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, along with Labor Senator Trish Crossin. I acknowledge some of our key reports, on donor conception, judging the judges, censorship, terrorism, marriage, euthanasia and other matters. My particular thanks go to the committee secretaries and staff for their professional and wonderful work.

But the Senate is not doing all that it was established to do. The Senate was formed as a states' house but the party political system has largely nullified this role. We perform best when we are able to promote and defend our states and our local communities. The political straitjacket imposed by the party system impedes this approach. The rigidity imposed by the party machine is another reason for the significant growth in the parliamentary friendship groups. Many of the two-thirds of our parliament on the backbench can and do flourish in these forums, and understandably so. I have particularly enjoyed my role as co-convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of the Millennium Development Goals and as former chair and current vice-chair of the Australia-Denmark Friendship Group. The city of Kingborough is close to securing a sister city relationship with Fredensborg, Denmark, partly because of the good work of this group and my relationship with Mayor Graham Bury.

Likewise it has been an honour to participate in this place on conscience issues. More often than not I have been on the losing side, but the discussion and debate around these issues, and the process of negotiating compromise and amendments, has caused all members of parliament to dig deep and to think hard on a personal level, whether it be on stem cell research, cloning, euthanasia or abortion. In regard to the latter, I remain saddened that second trimester and late-term abortions still occur in this country, in­cluding with taxpayer or Medicare funding. All these issues reflect the values we hold as a community and they have im­portant moral and society-wide implications.

Remaining close to the community is the secret to success for any democracy. A key objective for me has been to work with the community, for the community, on the right issues and for the right reasons. Helping individuals, families, business and com­munity groups be the best they can be was part of the motivation for my writing the book Make a Difference: A Practical Guide to Lobbying—all royalties of which go to juvenile diabetes research. In our democracy, the opportunity for all citizens to make their voices heard is indeed something we should value.

The loss of my Senate seat at the last election reflected the dismal results for the Liberals in Tasmania, despite the successful campaign for Tony Abbott and the Liberals nationally. Senators in this place may be interested to know that my replacement has views that differ greatly from my own on most issues, but she is far better looking. A 61-39 two-party preferred outcome in Tasmania is not good and has been a catalyst for Liberal Party reform. I particularly note the work done by Julian Leeser last year to review the party in Tasmania, and with others I share the hope that these reforms will be implemented. Our selection processes should certainly be more democratic, and I know Peter Reith's report and recom­mendations support this. At this point I would also like to acknowledge the members of the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team, past and present, for their work to advance Tasmania's interests. I have been very proud to have served as a member of this team. Can I also commend our Tasmanian Liberal State President, Richard Chugg, for his ongoing efforts to reform the party in Tasmania.

As someone who has lived in the US, I think it is time to consider the merit of including a primary-style involvement of Liberal voters committed to the party as part of the selection process. In making this suggestion, the key issue is to encourage community engagement in our democracy, which, after all, means government by the people.

Labor's policy bungles and broken promises are seemingly never ending. The civil union between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Greens leader Senator Bob Brown will be more transparent from 1 July with the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate. The Greens support the introduction of death duties, oppose private health insurance and support a free-range drug policy. There is opposition in their ranks to Israel. Australia has been a long and loyal friend of Israel and I hope this Senate chamber makes it clear that this relationship should grow rather than be diminished.

We need a Tony Abbott coalition government now more than ever. I am convinced Tony Abbott will be Australia's next Prime Minister. My home state of Tasmania is in a parlous state under the Labor-Green government, which appears to be in a rolling crisis. Confidence levels are at an all-time low. Tasmanians are doing it tough with cost-of-living pressures. They deserve better. At the state level, there is hope for the future. I believe that Will Hodgman and his Liberal team can deliver more responsible management of public finances, stable government and a strong economy for the people of Tasmania.

At a time such as this, there are of course many people to thank. The effectiveness and professionalism of senators is dependent on many people. The Australian Senate is like a beacon that shines brightly among the parliamentary democracies of the globe. May I place on record my personal thanks to the clerks and other staff of the Senate; the staff of the Department of Parliamentary Services; the Comcar staff and drivers, who have been thoughtful and courteous at all times; the travel and security staff; and the many others who help us in our role. I make special mention of the chaplain of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, Reverend Peter Rose, who is in the chamber today. A special thankyou goes to the staff of the Parliamentary Library for their compre­hensive and timely research service. May I acknowledge and thank those many supporters in the gallery, some of whom were here for my first speech in March 2002, as well as those in Tasmania and elsewhere around the country, for their support and encouragement. It is appreciated. I am particularly thankful for the dedicated, professional and tireless work of my office team, past and present. I would like to acknowledge all of them, including my original team. It is most appreciated. We had a special celebration last Friday night in Launceston, which was well appreciated by all. They have done a fantastic job, and together we have kicked some goals for Tasmania and our country.

I pay a special tribute to my wife, Kate, and children, Nina, Alice and Ben, who are here in the gallery today, supported by my mother Sallie, Lady Ferrall. I love you. I thank you for your patience and perseverance, your loyalty and seemingly unconditional love over the past 9½ years. By far my greatest achievement of my time in the Senate is maintaining a close and loving relationship with my wife and my family, by God's grace. This was an objective I set out in my first speech and I am immensely thankful.

In conclusion, as we face the future early in the 21st century I recount the words of King George V at the beginning of the Second World War when he said:

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I might tread safely into the unknown,' and he replied, 'Go into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way'.

On a personal level, I am excited about the challenges and opportunities ahead, mixed with just a little trepidation as the plans roll out. Whatever the future holds, I know who holds the future. In July I look forward to cycling in the Tour de France. I will be participating in the final week of the three-week tour, pretending very hard to be a champion. After this adventure, apart from my role as ambassador for Diabetes Australia, I will continue to pursue my passions while remaining within striking distance of federal and state politics.

Thank you to the senators in this place for the tremendous amount of goodwill and camaraderie despite their many disparate views. It is a testament to the character of this chamber. May I take this opportunity to wish all retiring senators every good wish, whatever lies ahead. Thank you for your service to the Senate and the nation. Also, best wishes to continuing and new senators in this place for the challenges ahead. Since Federation there have been 534 senators who have served our nation, with 76 of them representing Tasmania. I am indeed grateful to have been one of them for the past 9½ years. I thank the people of Australia, and particularly the people of Tasmania.