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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 11955

Mr TRUSS (Wide BayDeputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development) (11:43): I join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to Joe Hockey, the member for North Sydney, on his valedictory speech but particularly for his contribution to the parliament over almost 20 years. I noticed his commentary about his maiden speech. We do tend in our farewell comments to the parliament to go back to those early remarks and, I guess, judge ourselves on what we said, what we predicted and what our goals and objectives were at that time. Joe himself has today quoted from his first speech. I suspect I was in the parliament to hear that speech, but I have to admit that I cannot remember every detail! It was, therefore, refreshing to read it again. Indeed, it does very much reflect the character of the man who came into the parliament. Those values have been very clear and very evident through his whole career.

He certainly has been one of the great characters of this parliament. As others have said, he has made a big contribution in every sense to the parliament, to government and to public life in Australia. He also had a big voice, so he was able to overpower even the most vigorous of interjectors, and his way of responding to questions during question time certainly encouraged and enlivened his colleagues and brought a great degree of spirit to the parliament.

It is a parliament that is very different from the one which he entered 18 years ago, and I am not sure that all of those things are for the better. The parliament has certainly become noisier and it has become less able to deal in detail and, I think, constructively with many of the key issues that need to be resolved. Joe, in his maiden speech and, indeed, in the way he has dealt with all policy issues has always been keen to look at issues from the perspective of their long-term impact and their capacity to make our country a better place. The arguments are not always simple; they are often complex, and it is often a matter of judging and making a balance between the various options.

That is where I think our political debate in Australia now is so difficult. Even the most seemingly near perfect of policies is likely to have its critics. The modern access to electronic media, Facebook, Twitter et cetera means that the critics are always there. They are the ones that get the vocal attention. No matter how worthy and meritorious the policy commitment may be, the reality is that you can always search long enough and hard enough to find somebody who will be opposed—and they get equal billing in the media. If you are a Treasurer trying to sell a difficult policy issue, that certainly makes having a rational debate difficult. Joe has been through seven elections. He has faced the good times and the bad times and he has been a champion of the parliament through all that time.

I would like to make a particular comment about something he has had to do over the last 12 months, which is be the chairman of the finance ministers for the G20. Australia had a very successful year hosting the G20. We were expected to provide some policy leadership. In that regard, economic policy issues were the key focus that we chose for G20. Joe's leadership as chairman of the finance ministers over that year has made a difference to the way in which countries look at the major financial issues that we have to deal with and, in particular, our capacity as a planet to plan for the future. That global leadership has been recognised by our partners in the leading nations of the world, and I really congratulate Joe on his capacity and the way in which he dealt with those particular issues.

When you are a Treasurer you have to make a lot of hard decisions and when you are a spending minister you often feel you are the victim of those hard decisions. But what I really admired about Joe Hockey's career as a Treasurer was his vision for our country and his preparedness to be innovative in trying to address the issues. He inherited a debt. He inherited very difficult budgetary situations. But he had a determination for our country to continue to build—and if you build, you have to be able to spend money and you, therefore, have to be able to afford the cost of what you are proposing.

As the minister that had the special privilege of being involved with infrastructure during this government, I saw how his willingness to look outside the square has meant that a lot of very important projects in Australia are happening which otherwise could never have been funded, projects like WestConnex and NorthConnex. He referred to Badgerys Creek and how he had bridged the gap between what this project is going to cost and what it can service from its revenue. The Toowoomba Range project is happening, a project that has been around for a long time and one that I have to acknowledge was not close to Joe's heart early in the piece. But when it came to the fact that it had to be built he was there looking for innovative ways in which it could be funded. There is also the Melbourne to Brisbane railway line. We are not quite there yet but, again, we are looking for ways in which we can fund projects that are so essential to our future—and, therefore, need to be built—but are always difficult to fund.

Then there is the way in which he dealt with some of the social issues such as the childcare package and the small business package, which really made a huge impact in small business communities and, let me say, the farm sector—and I know that Joe prides himself on having been a farmer also. He bought a lovely property up in North Queensland, and I think that may have warmed his heart. But I was a bit taken aback when he told me one day that he was going to sell the farm because he was not getting a big enough return on the investment. Now, I have to say, Joe, that is the real life of farming. I hope that one day you will have the courage to do it all again because I am sure you could make just as great a contribution to agriculture as you have to so many other elements of life.

But I think that involvement was a key element in his passionate and enthusiastic support for the northern Australia package. Again, it required an enthusiastic Treasurer, otherwise it would not have happened. So now we have the most visionary plan for northern Australia that our country has ever seen. It is something that will make a real difference and give the North its chance to contribute to the continent in a way we always wanted it to do.

The Treasurer has a difficult task. Joe has given every possible commitment to that work, and I was moved, I think it was in the lead-up to the last budget, when his family came to Canberra for a couple of weeks. It highlighted a number of points for me. Foremost of those is that the Treasurer's job is all-consuming. Also, families are important, and it is important to be together during the school holiday time. Families make a sacrifice, and I thought the arrangements that Joe put in place so his family could be with him in Canberra for a while as he was finishing off the budget were a wonderful tribute to his dedication and to the commitment of his wonderful family. We pay tribute not only to Joe and the team of people that have supported him in his electorate but also to his family, to his parents, to those who are around him and particularly to Melissa and the children for the wonderful contribution they have also made to our country.

Joe, in his maiden speech, outlined some of the things that he wanted to do, and now, in his valedictory speech, he has also laid out a visionary plan for the future. He has demonstrated his true love and affection for his country and his continuing determination to help make it a better place in which we all can live. It takes a toll on people personally, and on their families, but the contribution that Joe Hockey has made as Treasurer of our country has made our nation a better place in which to live. He has set up some opportunities and given us some capacity to do things in the future, not all of which will be finished in his time but will be a part of his legacy to the country. It has been a pleasure to work around many tables with the member for North Sydney over his time in the parliament. He is a truly great Australian, a man I admire both personally and for his contribution to our nation. I wish him and his family good health and every happiness for the future.