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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5584

Mr PEARCE (6:24 PM) —It is a great pleasure for me to follow the member for Denison. I congratulate him on a wonderful and outstanding parliamentary career.

I rise today to give this, my valedictory speech. I have been in this place for nine years. Some might call it a short period of time; others may consider it long. Nevertheless, for me, regardless of the political cycle, where I might sit in this House or what may or may not be the outcome of any election, I have come to the conclusion that it is the right time for me to move on and that a new chapter in my life is begging.

As all members would appreciate, it is my fervent hope that during my time here I have left the occasional footprint in the sand. Before my chapter in this place is closed, I would like to take this opportunity to place on record a few thoughts that might be of interest to those who come afterwards.

I am a committed Liberal and a strong believer in democratic principles. Although most Australians are more prosperous now than we have ever been, we live in an age when people read and talk of politics with an air of disillusionment and corrosive cynicism. A large minority in our community think it is fashionable to believe that politicians are useless, that the system does not work, that everything a politician touches is bad or getting worse and that all political activity is pointless. I for one do not accept this proposition.

I do not apologise for joining a political party, nor should we all here act contrite in coming together to form opposing sides of the political divide. I believe it is what the public would want us to do. They want us to forge alliances based on common ideals and experiences. To me, the notion of a House of Representatives filled with 150 disparate Independents, unable to agree on any issue, has never appealed to the electorate, although we should never forget, of course, it is in their gift to deliver it.

At its best this place is the helm of our democracy. This House is where the battle of ideas should be fought out and where the hopes and aspirations of the people who send us here receive expression and are, where appropriate, realised. At its worst this House can be a craven institution, either in thrall to the executive arm of government or played for a fool through party advantage, while also pandering to the baser parts of our national media. On days that this is allowed to happen, I believe a tiny bit of our system of representative democracy dies. If we allow this practice to happen, collectively we in this House, I believe, will have lost the moral authority to remain in this place.

Everyone who makes it here, however blusterous or engaging they may be, has something special about them. Thousands of people try at every election to get into parliament and very few succeed. To come through that process they have to have some attributes, which from time to time this place can both strengthen and uplift and sadly, in the alternative, overwhelm.

Day after day members of parliament are on their feet, pressing issues and concerns close to the hearts of their constituents. As the member for Aston I have never forgotten that, in taking opportunities to speak in this House, I am in effect using a powerful megaphone, a megaphone that I must use wisely and for the issues that matter to my constituents and to me. Serving in this place has been both a privilege and a responsibility, especially for us, whose commitment is to bettering the lives of those in our constituencies. This is the goal that made me stand for election in the first place. It is a privilege to be able to give voice on the national stage to the issues that arise in our electorates and the issues that our constituents bring to us, whether that be in Aston, in Victoria or across Australia. For me, it has been a privilege to be able to use my vote in this place to bring about some of the improvements in the lives of Australians over the past nine years.

Being in this place is also, as I mentioned, a responsibility. This sometimes means even speaking the truth to power, speaking up against injustice and opposing a viewpoint when we think there is a better way forward. Yet we also have a duty to support decisions when they help improve the lives of our citizens. For those of us who are coming to the end of our practical vocation in this place, I believe we should, regardless of our individual experiences here, at least say that we have not lost our faith in the cause. I believe public life in politics remains a most important and noble vocation for anyone to follow.

We conservatives believe that an important thing to do in politics is to draw a dividing line between what politics should be active in and what it should not be active in. In other words, understanding that which belongs to the public sphere and that which belongs to the private, which are views that should always be defended in this place. Politics, of course, is literally about defending political views. Despite this, the common view is that politics, or if you will public affairs, is something that we should do less of. However, I would argue that we should all end by saying that politics is something that a lot more people should do a lot more of. I am of the opinion that politics in Australia is only safe when it is practised by more people and when more people participate and have the experience of responsibility. I think we need to come up with ways of encouraging more people to take more responsibility. Only in that way can we truly maintain and strengthen our democracy.

There is no doubt that, as a result of what we do here in this House, my constituency of Aston and Australia in general benefit when we get it right and suffer when we get it wrong. I remain sceptical of people who argue that parliamentary reform and making the House of Representatives more effective can be achieved by some kind of silver bullet. The fact is that there is no one silver bullet. However, that does not mean that improvements cannot be made. I would respectfully stress that, in my view, there is an essential need to reform various elements of the system; elements that can only improve our democracy. I do not want to be as presumptuous as to outline particular issues or to portray that I have all the answers. Rather, I would strongly urge the need for all sides of politics to finally and openly acknowledge what I believe we all know to be true, that is, the need for reform. If our collective acknowledgement could be achieved then I believe the parliament could actually embrace a unified approach to make this happen so that the system can be improved for the good of all.

In parliament we are presented with numerous opportunities to make a difference during our time. For me, membership of parliamentary committees has been one avenue to effect change. I believe that it is through committee work that as parliamentarians we can really get in touch with the needs and wants of many Australians. Committees are not about paper shuffling but are about standing witness to the evidence presented before them, evidence that is so often linked to life experiences and to personal histories. Deep down committee work is about the people we meet and how we can have a positive effect on their lives. It is also about the effect their experiences have on our lives.

My time as a member of the Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs and the subsequent publication of the committee’s report Every picture tells a story is one such instant that I will always remember as a watershed moment for me in this House. It brought home to me how much of an impact we really can have. In working towards the finalisation of Every picture tells a story it had been the committee’s task to find a way to make the family law system better—better for those children who find themselves, through no choice of their own, in a situation where their parents cannot live together anymore and need to separate. It was my desire and that of my colleagues that the report grapple with the need communicated to the committee by respondents from all walks of life. Despite the recognition in law of a breakdown in a relationship, the parents of children are still just that, their parents, and should continue, where appropriate, to share responsibility for them and remain substantial figures in their life.

I, like my colleagues, was convinced that sharing responsibility is the best way to ensure as many children as possible grow up in a caring environment. To share all the important events in a child’s life with both mum and dad even when families are separated, in my view, remains the ideal outcome. I am proud of that standing committee’s report and I encourage all members of this place to further support and strengthen provisions within our family law to provide for the best interests of children and for that to be the most important consideration when faced with parenting issues.

Of course committees are assisted greatly by the fine work of many parliamentary staff members. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who support the parliament, whether it is in committees or in other areas of the parliament’s work. Each person plays an important and essential role in ensuring this place functions and keeps moving forward.

Another area of public policy and of deep personal interest to me that I worked to promote during my time here is the importance of music and music education in the life of young Australians. I touched on this in my very first speech in this House and continue to believe passionately in the link between the learning of music and the development of our humanity. In February 2003, I moved a private member’s motion in this House when I said that I believed every child in Australia should have a comprehensive education in music. I went on to say that, if this can be achieved, I believe those young people will have a better life and that Australia and for that matter the world will be a better place. I am proud to say that my motion was one contributing factor that helped lead to the establishment of the National Review of School Music Education, a review that has gone some way to elevating music education in the life of our children. Although it may sound very simple to say, I want to encourage all members to always remember what a difference music makes in our lives and what a difference it can make to our society. Put simply, more children learning and playing music in the community promotes more happiness and contentment in the community.

It was an honour, firstly, to have been elected to represent the people of Aston and, secondly, it was an honour for me to have serviced in government and more particularly in the ministry working as parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer alongside Peter Costello, Australia’s longest-serving Treasurer. In this role I had the opportunity to directly shape and influence policy outcomes within this portfolio for our nation.

During my time in government, we made significant reforms and important progress in the key areas of financial services, corporate law, consumer affairs and regulation. Combined with the much more substantial initiatives of the coalition government throughout its entire term, the reforms I worked on contributed in a very small way to insulating Australia against some of the harsher elements of the global financial crisis.

My deepest appreciation goes to the people of Aston, who have been most kind and generous in their support. I leave having obtained their support in four elections and I have been constantly touched by their belief in me as their representative. As I look back, I still feel very fortunate in successfully holding such a marvellous and great electorate—first, in a politically testing by-election in 2001 and, later, in successive general elections. I just hope that in some small way I have been able to represent them well and assist in making our local community a better place.

The Aston by-election was, as members might remember, a very testing time. I well recall Prime Minister Howard saying on record that it was the Aston by-election win that was the turning point in the fortunes of the coalition government. Throughout my time here, I have always found it interesting how we are constantly told and constantly reminded by the commentariat that the coalition’s win in 2001 was only as a result of Tampa. Maybe it is just an inconvenient truth that, heavily against all the odds, we won the marginal seat of Aston in a by-election several weeks before Tampa sailed into view. The trends had actually started to change well before Tampa even came on the scene. I think this is a perfect example of how, in public affairs, certain vested interests can attempt to rewrite history.

I put on record my thanks to the Liberal Party as a whole and in particular to the members of the Aston Federal Electorate Council, especially the electorate council chairman, Mr Graeme McEwin. Graeme’s support for me, both professionally and personally, has been unwavering and for that I thank him deeply. I sincerely thank all the hardworking Liberals in Aston for supporting me throughout the years. I remain deeply grateful for their commitment and their dedication to the cause. In truth, the Liberal Party has been more than just a political party for me and my family. In my case, when we arrived in Melbourne many years ago, we had no family members and few personal friends in Victoria. It has been the Liberal Party that has in fact brought us our dearest and closest friends, something that I will never forget.

I particularly thank my loyal staff, who have played their part in helping me throughout my time here. I thank those who currently work with me—Sandra, Glynis, Roz and Scott—as well as all of those who have been part of my parliamentary life and have moved on. To all of you, I thank you. I could not have represented a better constituency or worked with a more dedicated group of people. I also take this opportunity to place on record my sincere thanks to my friends Barbara and Roger, who are here in the chamber today and who have opened their home to me in Canberra for most of my time here. Both Barbara and Roger have been most kind and have made the lonely nights in Canberra go much more quickly and enjoyably.

To all my parliamentary colleagues, regardless of political persuasion, I wish you good health and happiness in the years ahead. To my coalition colleagues in particular, I thank you for your support and I wish you all the very best in the election ahead. There is no person in Australia who would like to see a Liberal-National coalition government in office more than I and I wish you all the best in the months ahead.

It has been said in this place before, and I am sure that it will be said by those to follow, that the time spent travelling, on the phone, at meetings, in conferences, at functions and here in parliament has taken away valuable time that could easily have been spent with the family. The fact that I have had the opportunity to serve in parliament is only due to the personal support and understanding of my family. In my own life, my son Daniel, who is here in the chamber today, was one year old when I entered this House and I leave as he now enters his second decade of life. For me, in regard to Daniel, I hope for two things. Firstly, I hope that my time here during his early life will have, in some small way, improved his future and likewise the future of all young Australians. Secondly, it is my hope that, in his second decade, I will be there for him much more than I have been in his first. For me, Daniel simply lights up my life.

My extended family has also played an incredibly supportive role in my career and I thank my very-much-loved stepchildren, Melinda and Brian, for their understanding and support throughout the years. I have had the great fortune to have had the most supportive, understanding and caring partner that any person could ever wish for, my darling wife Andrea. She is here today in the chamber and it is very difficult to fully express the depth of my gratitude to her, so I simply say, ‘Thank you’ and I say without hesitation that you are my everything.

For those who know me well, they will know that the person I most admire in political history is Sir Winston Churchill. When I was first elected to this place, Andrea presented me with a special gift. The gift was a framed Sir Winston Churchill commemorative crown coin, which was given to Andrea as a child by her late English grandmother. Under the crown, Andrea had a specially made plaque inscribed with the words: ‘A Certain Splendid Memory’. A Certain Splendid Memory is the known title of Sir Winston’s maiden speech, delivered in the House of Commons in February 1901.

This gift has taken pride of place in my electorate office every day of my life in parliament and now will hang in my study at home. As I look back and as I contemplate my time here in the House of Representatives, in this great Parliament of Australia, my recollections, my reflections and my thoughts will be nothing other than, indeed, a certain splendid memory. Thank you.

The SPEAKER —As a fellow Victorian, I wish the member for Aston the best in his life after this place. Before calling the member for Wannon, I am hopeful that there will be no points of order.