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Monday, 23 June 2008
Page: 5636

Mr NEUMANN (7:29 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Governor-General Amendment (Salary and Superannuation) Bill 2008. I think it is quite interesting that Moreton Bay College, which was founded in 1901 and shares its birthday with Federation, has produced the first female Governor-General. I note the contribution from the member for Bonner, which I thought was a terrific speech. The member for Mitchell just cannot help himself: at a time when we should be making bipartisan speeches, he comes in here and tries to tell us that the Governor-General is the head of state. Well, I suggest he reads the Constitution: the Governor-General represents the Queen here. I have to say that I thought for a moment we were going to get a diatribe about how 1975 was so wonderful. He must remember that 1975 cuts very deep for those of us over this side of the House. It is the galvanising moment for many of us who represent the Labor Party in this particular legislature. I remember it very vividly. I was a young boy at school and I remember exactly how my parents felt, exactly how my community felt and exactly how I felt at the time. We never want to go back to those days, and I would suggest that the member for Mitchell thinks very clearly, simply and studiously about whether he will make speeches in the future on those matters.

But I want to say about my old law lecturer how terrific it is that she has been appointed as the Governor-General of this country. I express my congratulations to her and to her husband, Michael. I also express my appreciation to His Excellency Major General Michael Jeffery for his contribution and that of his wife and for the service they have extended to our country. Her Excellency Quentin Bryce will be sworn in on 5 September this year. That is a great thing, and it is great thing for those of us who are from Queensland. The bill before the House deals with the salary of the Governor-General which will go up from $365,000 to $394,000 and it also gets rid of certain references to the superannuation surcharge, but I do not really want to talk about those sorts of issues. I want to talk about what an accomplished woman Quentin Bryce is.

When I think of her I think of women’s rights, Indigenous rights and human rights. She has had a sterling career. She is highly respected in Queensland. She was one of the first women admitted to the bar, in the mid-sixties. She is a mother, a wife, a grandmother. She has received honorary doctorates from various universities. From 1968 until 1983 she taught law at the University of Queensland’s law school. From there on she contributed enormously to life in Queensland and Australia. She was a director of the Queensland Women’s Information Service and of the Office of the Status of Women in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. She was Queensland director of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner. She was the founding chair and CEO of the National Childcare Accreditation Council and the principal and CEO of the Women’s College at the University of Sydney, New South Wales. And from 2003 she was the Governor of Queensland.

She has broken many glass ceilings. What she has done is remarkable. But there are a few specific things I would like to say about her. When I was campaigning in 2004 I remember campaigning in rural areas at the country shows. When she came to those country shows she was received by farmers, graziers, people from all walks of life, and what really struck me was her grace, her poise, her dignity and her common touch. She spoke to people at the stalls, to everyone wherever she went. She showed tremendous dignity and compassion towards people if they were injured or hurt or had concerns and raised them with her. It was extraordinary to see how people from all walks of life were taken with her dignity and respect and her contribution. My electorate of Blair takes in about two-thirds of Ipswich, and the mayor, Paul Pisasale, actually thinks she is the governor of Ipswich because she comes there so often. She is accepted wonderfully well at the Ipswich Christmas celebrations sponsored by the council. I also saw her with her husband at the 80th celebration of the RAAF at the RAAF base at Amberley. She was speaking to military personnel and, again, it was extraordinary to see the way she was accepted and could communicate with people from all walks of life. There is an affection for Quentin Bryce that you rarely see in public life.

I want to talk about one particular time, when she was lecturing and tutoring me at the University of Queensland, that I remember for her compassion and humanity. On this particular day, a young woman, Sally Fraser, who later became a friend of mine and worked in my law firm, was at a tutorial in the law faculty. Sally was unwell but she sat there trying to get through the tutorial as best she could. She was obviously in discomfort, and I could see how unwell she was feeling, and in the end she could not cope and had to rush out. Quentin Bryce was there and showed her tenderness and affection and friendship. I remember it all these years later because I have rarely seen someone show such compassion and humanity to a woman in need. My view was always that she was a very good law lecturer; she was a very interesting law lecturer and one of the few female lecturers there. But that particular day cemented my view of Quentin Bryce, and so I was absolutely thrilled when she was appointed as the Governor of Queensland.

It is terrific that the Deputy Prime Minister is a woman. It is terrific that we are to have our first female Governor-General, breaking 107 years of masculine tradition. And I think it is terrific that we have another Queenslander in a prominent position—I note the Treasurer is a Queenslander and the Prime Minister is a Queenslander and Quentin Bryce is too. But the thing about her that really shows the degree to which she has the common touch and how much—as so many people have said, and I agree—she will be an adornment to the office is the way she has talked about women’s issues and Indigenous issues in Queensland and Australia. She is a reformer. She is someone who wants to see our society progress, who wants to see people have equal opportunity, who wants to end discrimination and who wants women to have every chance in life, as men do.

I am the father of two teenage daughters. My wife, Carolyn, and I have tried to instil that in our children as well. You can be whatever you want to be, whether you come from a small rural or regional town in western Queensland like Quentin Bryce did, or whether you come from a place like Ipswich, where I come from, or Townsville or Melbourne or Birdsville or wherever. If you are a woman, you can do whatever you want to do. That is the sort of society that we need to become. Too few women are captains of industry; too few women are leading lawyers; too few women are judges; too few women are politicians. I look forward to the day when we have a female prime minister.

I also look forward to the day when Quentin Bryce is our last Governor-General. I look forward to the day when we have an Australian as our head of state. I look forward to the day when we can stand up ourselves and say that we can govern ourselves without a hereditary monarch from Britain having the power and capacity to dismiss an Australian government elected by the Australian people. I think that day will finally cement Australia’s full independence from its long tradition of British sovereignty, rule and hegemony that we have experienced for a long time. We have evolved and broken that down through various pieces of legislation that have moved us to a point where we are a country which has so much freedom and democracy that we are the envy of lots of places in the world.

But there is that last holdout, that last thing. We have got rid of the Privy Council; we have our own High Court as the highest court in the land. The last thing needs to go. Those of us on this side of the House who are republicans, and there are many, look forward to that day when we can have our own head of state. Until that day comes I hope that we have people like Michael Jeffery, Quentin Bryce and others in the role of Governor-General. We need Australians of such esteem, such accomplishment and such ability in that role.

I thank the Prime Minister for taking the initiative in terms of Quentin Bryce. I thank the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh, for effectively letting her go, because we in Queensland know and respect her so well. I look forward to the contribution of Quentin Bryce in representing and being a role model for young women. I look forward to what she will do as she speaks on issues in our country and as she represents Her Majesty at various events throughout Australia. She would be most warmly welcomed in the federal seat of Blair once again.