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Monday, 27 February 1995
Page: 1019

Dr HEWSON —by leave—Mr Speaker, with your indulgence I will make a statement to the parliament. I wish to inform the House that I have decided to resign as the member for Wentworth. It has been a great honour and a great opportunity for me to be a member of the federal parliament. I will be ever grateful to those in the party who supported me. I will be ever grateful to the people of Wentworth and to the people of Australia for what has truly been a unique opportunity. I have loved every minute of my time in parliament—I have even enjoyed the bucketings from the media and the other side of the House—and I would not have missed it for the world. In my seven-plus years in this place I have been provided with an opportunity to meet thousands of people whom I would not otherwise have met and I have visited hundreds of places in Australia that I never would have seen.

  I now feel that I have a significantly better understanding of Australia and what it means to be an Australian. I am particularly appreciative of the chance that the Liberal Party gave me to be a member of parliament and, importantly, to be its leader. I guess, if you look at my background, I was not a typical Liberal. In fact, being strictly honest, I tended to feel I was from the wrong side of the tracks. I had a Baptist working class background; I had a state school education; and I had parents who, in a formal sense at least, were relatively undereducated. In fact, nobody in my family had ever been to university—nor had they ever aspired to go to university.

   I played rugby league and churches soccer; I didn't play rugby union or Aussie rules. So I often felt—rightly or wrongly—as I was growing up that others seemed to get better opportunities. Their families seemed to know more important people and they seemed to get better access to the system.

   I can tell you, Mr Speaker, that, irrespective of what I achieved personally in education both here and overseas or in employment, it was the Liberal Party that demonstrated to me genuine equality of opportunity. I remember very clearly that I did not have to know key people; I did not have to be a member of a key faction, like those on the other side; I did not have to do deals or sell my soul—I could just be me and run for preselection on my own merits and win. In being able to win the so-called blue-ribbon seat of Wentworth in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and then to become leader, I believe that I am living proof that the Liberal Party is for all Australians. For that I am particularly humbled and for that I will be eternally grateful.

   Despite what we as parliamentarians feel at times that we bring to our party, we should never forget that it is the party that put us there and gave us the jobs that we get to do. In my case, the Liberal supporters, under the Liberal banner—the people who hand out all the leaflets, who staff the polling booths, who provide and raise the money, who run the chook raffles and who argue our case in the pubs and clubs all over Australia—are the ones who put us there. We should never forget that that is the case.

   I guess the question that is on a lot of minds is: why have I decided to leave politics. I can assure you it is not a seven-year itch. I said at the outset of my time in politics that Carolyn and I would regularly reassess our role and the contribution that we were making, and that we would make that reassessment in the context of our personal circumstances at the time. It was very important to us that we were making a worthwhile contribution and that we were making a real difference.

   For example, I stayed on after the last election, even though we had lost that election, because I felt I was best placed to keep the team together and to continue to fight for policy credibility. I stayed on after losing the leadership because I wanted to sustain the thrust of policy that I had started and I wanted to make sure that, to the extent possible, I would play my part in re-positioning the Liberal Party in a way that would win us the next election.

  But now, Mr Speaker, the facts are simple: I no longer believe that I can make the contribution to federal parliament that I want to. Sadly, if I speak out on issues these days I am generally said to be destabilising; equally sadly, if I say nothing I am said to be occupying a space which I should vacate for others and it is suggested that I ought to get out. This not only disappoints me but, by God, frustrates the hell out of me. I personally offered to serve loyally under both Downer and Howard in senior economic portfolios. The rest is, of course, history.

   My mother used to say to me—and she said it time and time again until she was blue in the face—`For heaven's sake, John, sit still.' Well, I never could and I never will be able to. I am the sort of person who, if he is not being usefully employed, will go out and do something else. If I cannot make a difference in politics, I want to make that difference somewhere else.

   Politics to me has never been an end in itself. It has just been a means to a better Australia. I am not a time server. I was not here for the money, for the perks or for the superannuation payout. Indeed, in a way I have maintained my quiet protest about all of that by travelling in taxis rather than Commonwealth cars for the last three years.

   The final consideration is that Carolyn and I are to have a baby in July and at my age, with 3 1/2 children, that could be quite an adjustment, even if I already do not sleep very much at night.

  As I look back over the time that I have had in politics, there were some early signs that should have warned me about the difficulties that I would have in a political career. I remember in my first election in 1987 we had a very large Young Liberal walking up and down the street with a sandwich board which had a poster of me on the front and back. He would walk down the middle of the street and I would follow along knocking on doors and introducing myself to people as we went along.

  I remember one particular fellow who was working on his car. He was underneath his car on one of those dollies—the little wheels that slide in and out. I had noticed as I was coming along that he had looked up and seen the poster go by. So I bent down and said, `Hi, I am John Hewson, I am standing as the member for Wentworth.' He looked at me; he looked at the poster; and he said, `I think I prefer the bloke in the poster.' So there was an early warning of my capacity as a salesman.

  Just before the 1993 election I was brought back to earth when I was warned how difficult it can be to have an impact in this business. I had had nearly three years of saturation publicity as the leader. I went to a business meeting in Melbourne. I turned up and I was greeted on the ground floor by a girl behind the desk who, when she saw me as I came in, got quite enthusiastic—`Good to see you. Glad you're here.' Then she paused and said, `Look, is your christian name John or Robert?' Both John and Robert are my christian names. I said, `My first christian name is John.' So she picked up the phone and said to somebody upstairs, `I've got John Keating down here to see you.' That was a double insult.

  The third episode—and I will be brief—was when my great mate Brian Doyle the comedian pointed out to me pretty early on the hopelessness of my timing. He said I was a really smart fellow—`This Hewson is a really clever fellow. He dropped the GST the day after the election.'

  This speech offers me an opportunity to seriously but briefly reflect on my time in politics. I would like to do that by going back to when I started to get interested in politics in the late 1960s. I left Australia, in fact, in 1968 to study overseas. At that time, to be honest, I had some real doubts about Australia and where Australia was headed. I had a real confidence that government was the answer, basically, to our economic and social problems, that government could provide the solutions.

  I was part of a generation that tended to leave university anyway and go into government believing that we could save the world. In those days I was more inclined towards Labor ideals than Liberal ideals; but by the time I returned at the end of 1974 early 1975, I was a reborn believer in Australia. I had some very genuine and serious doubts about government as a solution to any of our economic and social problems.

  Indeed, I was concerned that an excessive reliance on government was a large part of the problem as distinct from a solution in many instances. That sort of change of heart came from a whole host of factors. Just living and working overseas is an important education in itself. But I had been fortunate in the IMF to work on a whole range of issues: things like hyper-inflation in Brazil, which was substantially due to government profligacy; credit and monetary systems in Korea and Asian countries, again bringing similar lessons; forecasting the US economy; and forecasting the Canadian economy at a time when it was the renegade—it was floating its exchange rate and deregulating its financial system.

  I did a lot of work in theoretical and empirical terms looking at the way the world worked and how government interference in controls and impediments tended to distort the flow of money, goods and people, add to costs and increase inefficiencies. So I came back with a pretty clear-cut shift in my thinking.

  Philosophically, the key shift for me was the recognition of the true significance of the supremacy of the individual. It led me, when I looked at economic issues and economic policy, to try to develop economic systems that would give individuals maximum freedom to serve their personal, business and family interests, and give them maximum opportunities and equal opportunities—a system where their efforts would be genuinely and accurately rewarded and where the efficiency of the system would be maximised.

  This did not rule out a role for government of course; it is an important role for government. But it was a lesser role than existed in most countries in the world at that time. It combined to really providing a framework in which market forces would operate but protecting those who really did not have equal access, or who could suffer from the development of the system—the consumers, the disadvantaged. It is important for government to ensure the equality of access while providing a framework in which market forces can operate.

  The individual in that process though, however, is supreme. The government is subservient except, of course, when individuals collectively choose otherwise. In social policy again it leads me, and has led me, to see the individual as supreme. So I do not have any problem myself with issues that relate to women's rights or gay rights as they are called, to seeing abortion as a matter of choice for a woman in conjunction with her family and her doctor, to supporting legislation in relation to privacy or anti-racial vilification.

  Of course, there are always constraints; there must be. In the case of the latter, such legislation protects free speech, and gives proper recognition to the status and rights of Aboriginal people. It explains why I took the strong positions I did on issues such as female genital mutilation, mental illness and breast cancer research. In terms of the political spectrum, I was to the right of centre in economic matters and to the left of centre in social policy matters. I never saw economics or politics as an end in themselves or as a science. They have scientific elements but, basically, they are an art where judgment is fundamentally important.

  When I returned to Australia, I returned with a passion for change. I was conscious that Australia was going to have to operate in very difficult economic circumstances and increasingly difficult social circumstances. The growth and stability of the sixties had gone. Oil prices had quadrupled in one year. The Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates had broken down and people were not sure where they were going. The days of low inflation and low unemployment had gone and governments had resorted to big budget deficits, price and wage controls and so on. Yet Australia at that time was an isolated, inward-looking country. It was predominantly still an Anglo-Saxon country, very introspective, and heavily regulated and dominated by government. Yet we were expected to make our mark in an increasingly competitive, integrated and unregulated world economy.

  I wanted to see Australia move quickly to position itself in that process of change and to capitalise on that change. But, as I have said, my passion was not for politics but for making a difference. Politics was not an end in itself but a means to an end. As I have said many times, good economics and good policy would be good politics with probably a pretty short lag, even though I lost an election arguing that case. Certainly the reverse is true. Bad policy is going to be bad politics. Bad governments get thrown out. In the end, I think the people of Australia simply want their problems to be solved. We should never forget that.

  In my early days in politics, I was a staffer under Philip Lynch and then John Howard. I was very proud of my role in trying to force the debate in favour of deregulation of the financial system and towards lower protection. Might I say that the two great successes of the last 20 years in economic policy in Australia have been in those areas.

  The emergence of bipartisan support for lower protection has been a fundamental plus. A lot of the credit goes to the Labor Party in respect of that. It is a fundamental plus for Australia, although the job is yet to be completed. In relation to deregulation of the financial system, again, the credit must be shared between Liberal and Labor. The job is still to be completed but what a huge improvement there has been. More than anything else, that has been driven by unions, employers and others starting to focus on the nature of labour relations in this country and the need to have internationally competitive labour market structures. Everybody is now talking about enterprise bargaining but, 10 years ago, only one side of politics was.

  Over this time there have been some very important shifts in the debate but, most importantly, there has been a greater uniformity of view. The debate today is not so much about the direction of policy as it is about the pace and the substance of that change. To use one example, the days where the Labor Party argued for expanded budget deficits and we argued for contracted budget deficits have long gone. Fightback was an exercise to try to capitalise on that growing uniformity in the policy debate and to hopefully complete the process of reform that had been started in the mid-1970s.

  Fightback was a very broad based economic and social agenda. It was based on several beliefs. I guess the fundamental belief was that, in the midst of the worst recession in 60 years, we could argue and convince enough people of the need for significant change to win an election. Secondly, we believed that, in the aftermath of our policy positions in 1987 and 1990, we needed to build credibility again as a party that clearly stood for something in economic and social policy—to get out in front to set the agenda and to challenge the vested interests. Thirdly, there was a belief that, with minority parties holding the balance of power in the Senate, we needed to supply a fair degree of detail. We needed to get a mandate if we wanted to govern. We would not be able to govern if we had to negotiate every single piece of legislation through the parliament, as we have seen in the case of the government since 1993.

  Our failing was that we underestimated the politics of fear and misrepresentation. We underestimated that the politics of fear and misrepresentation could beat the politics of reason and the substance of policy. We failed to match the ALP on the ground. I personally do not think there is anything wrong with the policy direction we took to the last election. It can be extended. In some cases it can be changed. In some cases it can be improved. It was not the policy that was wrong; it was the way that I and others sold it and, therefore, failed to match the ALP and the union movement on the ground.

  Winning is important but to me it is not everything. How you win is at least as important. I am as disappointed as anyone else—and probably considerably more disappointed—that we did not win in 1993. I desperately wanted to win for the sake of the Liberal Party and for the sake of Australia. I did all I physically and intellectually could to secure that victory, but I was not good enough. I accept that reality without any rancour and without any sour grapes but, naturally, with a considerable amount of regret.

  I am proud that I did not resort to lies and deceit or to the gutter to get us across the line. We teach our kids about honesty and integrity—shouldn't our choice of role models back this up? I just did not want to win for the sake of winning. People say that I should have left Fightback in the bottom drawer and brought it out after the election. It is true that we might have won if I had done that, but we would not have been able to govern. With the minority parties holding the balance of power in the Senate, we could not have trotted out a post-election surprise like Fightback and expected them to support it. We needed to argue the mandate up front. Most importantly I would not have been able to live with myself if we had kept it in the bottom draw.

  I told my preselectors I wanted to do things differently, make significant changes, stand for policy not politics and raise political standards. I had set the parameters and I operated within them. I certainly did not want to be Prime Minister just for the title or for the opportunity to live in the Lodge. I wanted to be Prime Minister only if I could implement our program, which I knew would make a difference—not to wallow in the trappings of that great office or worry about my place in history.

  I am proud of what we stood for and I am proud of the way we did it. I rest peacefully at night absolutely sure that the people of Australia will have the final word; they will exact their revenge on those who lied to them and on those who attempted to frighten them. This, as much as anything else, will ensure that John Howard and the coalition win the next election. They will win that election—and I will back them all the way in the election contest.

  I am also proud that Fightback gave us as a party and as a coalition the greatest unity we have ever had. It gave us our greatest policy credibility. It is the first time ever an integrated economic and social policy has been developed in a way that was fundamentally consistent with our philosophical beliefs. My final comment on Fightback would be to say that I have a greater understanding these days of what John Kennedy meant in his Bay of Pigs press conference when he said:

There's an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers, defeat is an orphan.

To summarise my role in all that, I would quote the American poet Robert Frost:

I came across two paths in the woods today and I chose the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.

I do not want to show any sensitivity about not being an effective politician but I guess it depends on what your criteria are. In my time as leader we got one Prime Minister, three Treasurers, the Godfather, the New South Wales Right, two other ministers and an ambassador. That is not a bad track record if you count scalps.

  At the risk of being further accused of being politically naive and politically inept, I want to make one point before I give some thankyous. That is: look to the future. I appeal to this parliament and to the people of Australia to try to take a less political view of some fairly fundamental issues that are before us as a nation at the present time. There is a very important lesson from the past that we should never forget: you cannot tweak our economic and social system. It must be transformed. It must be subjected to broad based reform in our political circumstances as we find them today. This is particularly true if we as a nation are going to reach our full potential in the Asia-Pacific region, and particularly when we look at how fast and how quickly those countries are growing and changing.

  Our biggest challenge today is to recognise that our political system is not really conducive to that broad based reform for a number of reasons. I guess politicians on both sides of this place are still a bit shell shocked about the result of the 1993 election. Looking at it from a policy point of view, people are hell-bent on trying to avoid detail or taking clear-cut positions on key issues. Yet ironically, with the minority parties dominating the Senate and neither side likely to have control of the Senate in the foreseeable future, unless you have a clear mandate you are not going to be able to govern—you are going to have a gridlock.

  There is an incessant focus on politics today rather than on policy substance. This has three effects. The first is that short-sightedness or myopia is introduced into the debate. People leave this place of an afternoon and race out to ring up Laurie Oakes to see how they went in question time or they look to tomorrow's headline; maybe at a stretch they look to the next budget or the next election. Yet we are competing in a region where our competitors think in terms of decades or generations at the very least.

  The second is that the political process today is dominated by polls and by what key commentators like Oakes, Lyneham or others say in their editorials or columns. There is not that much focus on whether people are saying what is right and doing what is right to solve our problems. Politics is one of those very strange businesses. It is probably one of the few businesses where you can think you had a good day and where you can do what you think is right, only to look at television that night or the headlines the next day to find out that you actually stuffed up pretty badly. You have so little control over what happens to your position.

  The third is that the noisiest minorities today are having the biggest influence on government and policy. Those who can mount an effective campaign are having that influence. Without taking a view of the loggers, I demonstrate the case that encircling this place with trucks so the Prime Minister cannot get to work tends to focus his mind. I long for the day that the tax reform debate sees the business community and others lead a similar revolt to get genuine reform in this place.

  My point is very simple: we desperately need to step back from all this and find some way, on the bigger issues at least, to depoliticise the process and to find greater opportunities for a bipartisan approach to some of the bigger issues. Some issues are clearly bigger than any of us as politicians, and they are too important in many cases to be left to politicians. The lives of issues often transcend the lives or the terms of many politicians so their solutions can be readily lost in a succession of myopic politicians playing interminable political games.

  As I mentioned before, the stability of the 1950s and 1960s was shattered in the early 1970s. We are now 20 to 25 years on and we have not made any significant improvement in dealing with some of those problems. Every time we have gone around the economic cycle we have come out with higher interest rates in real terms; higher unemployment and higher long-term unemployment; bigger balance of payments problems and bigger debt; and a greater intensity of a whole range of our social problems, be they homelessness, youth suicide or whatever. We simply cannot go on like this. It may be that we need political reform and reform in the attitudes in this place before we get substantial reform and response to some of those issues.

  To my mind, the main long-term issues that face us today which are desperately in need of a bipartisan approach, or a less political approach, are: how we resurrect the whole issue of broad based economic and social reform, including tax reform now we have had the experience of the 1993 election; how we formulate a successful national savings strategy, in particular a national savings and superannuation scheme that guarantees that when people get to retirement they are going to be adequately protected; how we properly reform our constitution not only to deal with issues like the republic but also to give proper recognition to our Aboriginal people and their heritage without creating division or discriminatory rights; how to properly allocate expenditure and taxing responsibilities to the three levels of government; how to shift from the current focus; and, finally, and another really important issue, how we are going to shift from the current focus of cutting immigration—which, in effect, is almost a moratorium on immigration today—to recognise the significant need in this country to dramatically expand immigration.

  I want to give some thankyous to those who have been important to me in the last seven years of my political career. I have already mentioned the role of my supporters in the party and, more broadly, in Australia. I thank them. I have spoken to many of them in my electorate over the last few days. I greatly appreciate the contribution and self-sacrifice they have made on my behalf.

  The second group I should thank is my staff. I have been blessed with a very loyal and dedicated staff who have been prepared to put in 18 to 20 hours a day. In fact, when putting together Fightback, I remember some of them going without sleep for two to three days. It is that sort of dedication and commitment that I greatly appreciate in terms of my experience in this business. You are, in the end, substantially only as good as your staff. You never want to underestimate their importance. I want to formally thank them all. Many of them have come back and are in the gallery today. I thank you very much for the contribution that you have made.

   To my family, I thank my father and his friend Jan. I only wish my mother could have lived to see my seven years in politics. I think it would have made a big difference to her. I thank Carolyn's parents, Chris and Jude, and her sisters, Prue and Erica. I would also like to acknowledge the tremendous support and encouragement of my brothers, Lindsay and Greg, and their wives, Anne and Barbara, and of my sister, Nerida, and her husband, Greg. They have really lived and breathed every second of the last seven years. Although we feel it when we receive some flack, sometimes we forget that the family feels it more. When they get written up in the paper, they really feel it. When they get misrepresented, they feel it that much more.

  To my children who are here today—all 3 1/2 of them—I am delighted that you have been so supportive and so committed to the cause that I tried to fight for. They have given so much of their personal time and energy to that cause. To Carolyn, I wish to say a special thank you. Nobody could have had a better friend and adviser. My father often said to me when I was a young fellow, `When you choose your wife, you should see that she has good health, good teeth and that she is a good cook.' In Carolyn's case, two out of three is not bad. She is not a great cook. The key point is that my father never really foresaw—this is not a fault of his but a fault of his times—the extent to which women would improve their standing in Australian society. He never foresaw the well educated, articulated career woman that Carolyn is. She has been a great source of support.

  To my friends such as David Harley and others who are here, thank you for your support. They live and breathe this as well. I have been appreciative of having friends on both sides of this House. That is not rare perhaps, but I greatly value the friends I have on both sides of this parliament. To my colleagues, the government and the media—I am inclined to put you all together; I do not know how to characterise this because I know that you have all been waiting for me to say something—the best thing for me to do is to quote that well-known Redfern poet Jeff Fenech: `I love youse all'. I just love some of you more than others.

  There has been so much written over my political career—most of which I have not read but I have been told about—about what has influenced me, on whom I have modelled myself and about what people have had a significant influence on the development of my ideas, thoughts, career and so on. I thought I would finish with just three quotes that summarise some of those influences. The first is from John Maynard Keynes, who stated:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.

I would say `some defunct Fightback economist'. Secondly, when judging my role in politics, I was always impressed by what Kennedy said of the opportunities that the US presidency gave him. I think they apply particularly in Australia today. He said:

For those to whom much is given, much is required. And when at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each of us, recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state, our success or failure, in whatever office we hold, will be measured by the answers to four questions:

First, were we truly men of courage?

Second, were we truly men of judgement?

Third, were we truly men of integrity?

Finally, were we truly men of dedication?

I rest easy in my political career in answer to all four of those questions. Finally, there is a quote from Theodore Roosevelt which I think my mother could have written:

It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doers of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred with dust and sweat; who strives valiantly; who errs and may fall again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who does know the great enthusiasm, the great devotion; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold or timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

I would not have had it any other way.