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Wednesday, 28 February 2018
Page: 2348

Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (19:55): Over the last month I've made several speeches in this place that focused on the fight to retain Bennelong last year. I've thanked all the volunteers and helpers who devoted their time and efforts, but I have just a couple of final thoughts that I would like to air. Firstly, I'd like to thank the people and the community groups of Bennelong. This by-election was a great inconvenience to a great many people—for which I have apologised and I apologise again—but the residents of Bennelong in the main took on the burden with grace and good humour. Many people may not agree with my politics—and that's fair enough—but the understanding and sympathy I got was humbling.

Bennelong is dependent on its wonderful community groups, which fill every social and welfare niche, from the Australian Asian Association of Bennelong and the Armenian National Committee, which look after the needs of our many diasporas, to Christian Community Aid and North Ryde Community Aid, which look after some of the most needy people in our suburbs. These wonderful organisations and many like them make a tangible difference to the livelihood of locals and the vibrancy of our community.

I was very fortunate to have the support of many of these wonderful organisations. I know that this is not automatic and does not come with the job. Instead, it is earned, and I hope in the coming years I can earn the trust of these remaining groups through supporting them in the vital work they do. Regardless of whether I have had support here or not, I'd like to thank all of these groups for the access and acceptance that I received through the by-election. Much of the community was turned upside down, but you kept on going through the chaos, so thank you. This goes out to people like Helen Crouch, who didn't bat an eyelid when I brought a special guest and former member for Bennelong, John Howard, to the annual NRCA Christmas lunch, or Jason Koh, who bent over backwards to accommodate a Korean free trade agreement anniversary gathering at short notice while also putting together Sydney's most-read Korean paper. I'm grateful to every one of you, so thank you very much.

Whereas everyone was welcoming and accommodating to me in Bennelong, not all corners of society met me with fairness or an open-minded approach to their views. Here I'm referring to the media, who misrepresented me and aggressively disrupted my family's privacy on a number of occasions. I'm not seeking to call out all members of the media. I fully accept that a strong democracy also needs a strong, even-handed media to keep it honest. Where I falter I expect to be called up on it, but there should be a line of privacy that must be respected and there should be a commitment to truth-based journalism. Conjecture and supposition is not news and should never, ever be treated like it is.

On one occasion early in the campaign some journalists were camped outside my partner's home waiting for me to leave. When the garage door opened they stormed into the property, uninvited, blocking my way and trying to get to me as I got into my car. I've nothing to hide from the press, so this invasion of my space and my partner's property was unnecessary, not to mention illegal on the grounds of trespass. It was galling to see these rules of law and common decency broken by the media with such impunity.

Another issue that raised headlines and comments that were anything but factual was regarding my register of interests. It was alleged that I had incorrectly filled in my interests statement. These allegations appeared on the front pages in the days immediately before polling day, at a time when they could do the most damage. I still have people come up to me in the street and berate me, having made the assumption that these reports were correct. This is hardly their fault, as the reports were written to indicate that I had breached rules. However, this was not only incorrect but also malicious and dishonest. I filled in my interests statement through direct consultation with the Clerk to ensure that it met every requirement before submission, but this did not stop certain dishonourable members of the press from propagating lies that suited their political agenda.

I'm sorry to end on this note. It was a passionate campaign on both sides and had many low moments, but ultimately it was a campaign that demonstrated the fantastic qualities of everyone involved in the campaign, all of our supporters and, more importantly, the community, which accepted the by-election with good grace and is committed to working together to make Bennelong a better place. (Time expired)

Debate interrupted.

House adjourned at 20:00