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Wednesday, 29 May 2013
Page: 4305


Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (Batman) (15:00): I speak on indulgence. I wish to advise the House that I have today informed the leader of my party, the Australian Labor Party, that I will be leaving the parliament at the next election.

Colleagues, this is a personal decision. It is not a decision that I have taken lightly; however, I feel that that the timing is appropriate and in the best interests of my party and my family. It has been an absolute privilege and pleasure to serve as the member for Batman since 2 March 1996. In fact, this is my first and last speech as a backbencher. Up until my resignation from cabinet on 22 March this year I have had the honour and privilege of serving continuously as the shadow minister in a variety of economic portfolios, and as the Minister for Resources and Energy and the Minister for Tourism. I thank the Australian Labor Party and the constituents of Batman for the opportunity, especially the heart and soul of the party: the local branch members who have supported me in my time in this place.

When I look back on my career, firstly at the Miscellaneous Workers Union, then as ACTU president and finally as a member of parliament, my main motivation has been to get Australians into decent, well-paying jobs. This is what the Labor Party means to me: helping those less fortunate in life by providing new jobs and opportunities to achieve a better quality of life. Creating opportunities by working with business is not the same thing as pointless class rhetoric. In essence, we need to grow the pie to share it. As I said in my maiden speech to parliament on 2 May 1996:

The people of the electorate are working people whose priorities for their families are better job opportunities, better housing opportunities, better educational opportunities, better health opportunities and support for the aged.

During the 1980s and 1990s this involved some genuinely tough decisions with people like Simon Crean, Bill Kelty and, of course, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. We knew the economy had to be restructured, which would involve closing down old industries and creating efficiencies and new opportunities. This meant that jobs were lost in many industries with members that I and other unionists had represented for decades. Colleagues, they were hard decisions to take, but they were taken in the knowledge that they would provide the basis of a better Australia for all of us. Let me tell you, standing at the factory gates with people who had just lost their jobs, all for the greater good of reforming our economy, was not easy.

At the same time, as President of the ACTU I was proud to be involved in negotiating the accord with the Hawke and Keating governments. The accord led to rises in family payments targeting low-income families, higher school retention rates, increased welfare benefits for pensioners, tax cuts for lower- and middle-income workers, compulsory superannuation and proper training for the unemployed based on the all-important principle of a reciprocal obligation. This is a proud legacy for the union movement and for the Labor Party.

On my watch as minister for resources I am proud to have helped facilitate the biggest pipeline investment in our resources sector this country has ever seen. Perhaps more importantly, if we focus our attentions on the fundamentals of attracting further investment, including getting costs under control and achieving regulatory reform, we had the capacity as a nation to secure a second pipeline of investment, especially in the LNG sector, which will set up Australia for the 21st century.

My friends, we have had 21 years of continuous growth in this country, and we as a nation should never forget that. When other countries faced recession during the global financial crisis, Australia continued to grow. In my opinion, this and the apology to the stolen generations are major achievements of Labor governments since 2007. I am also delighted that we are now finally moving towards a national disability scheme, a further chance to look after the less privileged in our society.

Australia's recognition as a member of the G20 is also a fitting recognition of the constructive role we play internationally. It is fair to say that many seek to demonise the resources industry, but we should never forget that it accounts for 60 per cent of our export wealth, wealth that has meant we could take better care of our community, improve the lives of Australians and give opportunities to those who never thought that they could do the things they now do in that sector.

As minister for energy I am proud of the microeconomic reform process I continued to deliver in the energy sector, competition reforms established under the Keating government. I am proud that I have stayed true to the market principles underpinning the sector, delivering an efficient and reliable essential service to the community.

I want to acknowledge the cooperation of fellow energy ministers from the states in supporting me as chair of the ministerial council, where together we set up the next tranche of future energy market reforms that will ensure that the long-term interests of consumers continue to be at the centre of energy market reform.

While many may be surprised, I am also especially proud of the establishment of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, ARENA, and the appointment of a highly experienced and talented group of people to sit on its board and invest in deploying and developing Australia's renewable technologies. Our green jobs in the 21st century will be at the high end, focusing on research and development and innovation.

As Minister for Tourism I am also proud of the growth we have achieved in difficult circumstances in Australia's largest services export sector, employing over half a million Australians and directly contributing $35 billion to our economy. Huge market opportunities exist in Asia and it has been a focus of mine to boost investment in the tourism sector so that Australia can capture these opportunities in the future. Tourism 2020 is about that very objective.

I would like to conclude by firstly thanking all the staff and those who support us to make this parliament the wonderful institution it is. Thank you.

Members should also never forget that, irrespective of who is in government, they must properly resource and protect the independence of the Parliamentary Library. It is an exceptionally valuable resource making a major contribution through its research capacity to the strength of our democracy.

I also make special mention of parliamentary committees. I thoroughly enjoyed participating in a variety of parliamentary committees. They were a great learning opportunity for a young member. It is also where friendships are formed across the political divide.

To my former department, the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, I personally want to thank you for the invaluable advice you provided me as a minister. We went through a lot together and I have the utmost respect for the department and the quality of the work done by its officials. It was a thankless task.

I have also been fortunate to have wonderful staff and I am pleased to note that some of them are here in the gallery this afternoon, both past and present, ministerial and electorate. My success has been your success and many of you are part of my extended family.

Finally, my parents, Jack and Mary Ferguson, who were here for my swearing-in as a member in 1996, have now passed on. Thank you for the wonderful start you gave me in life and the love and support you gave me throughout my life. My wife Tricia, to Benjamin and Clare and my daughter-in-law Meghan, thank you. As I said in my first speech, life has never been easy with me due to long hours and lengthy periods away from home. The last decade has been especially challenging as Tricia has virtually managed the health challenges of one of our children full-time. I thank her. I thank you, Tricia, Ben and Clare, for your encouragement and support. Without that I would never have been part of the achievement of the labour movement, both industrially and politically, that I have spoken about today. I thank the House for the opportunity.