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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1731

Ms BURKE (Chisholm) (10:01): Thank you, Deputy Speaker Mitchell, and congratulations on your role in this august place. While this is in no way my first speech after 15 years and six elections, it does feel like a long time since I have given a speech in this place. The misnomer of being called Speaker in the last parliament is that the Speaker actually never gets to speak, so I am feeling a little overwhelmed at being back here and rising in this place.

I want to thank everybody who let me jump the queue to give this speech today. I had hoped that my invisible staff member may be in the building, because I am giving it on his behalf. I am hoping he has arrived and is upstairs glued to the television so that when I get back he can tell me off.

I vividly remember giving my first speech in this place some 15 years ago. I had been beautifully conned by the whip at the time, Leo McLeay—a man known for getting his own way—that I should give my speech the day after I was sworn in. Of course, my speech was not ready by any stretch of the imagination and, not knowing the technology in this building, I lost my speech at 2 am and had to rewrite it. So, all in all, it was a traumatic experience. So I commend everybody who has given their maiden speech and also those who are about to follow me. The sense of pride and honour in being elected to this place, remembering the history of where they have come from, their electorates, why they are here and what they are doing has been overwhelming. I have listened to all of them and I have been thoroughly impressed. I am sure the ones to follow will be just as good.

I rise to speak on the Governor-General's address-in-reply and, sadly, I was not overwhelmed by it. What I was given a sense of was that this is not a government that is looking to reform. It is not a government of revolution; it is not even a government of evolution; it is a government of regression. The government, in its speech given by the Governor-General, indicated what it is going to repeal, what it is going to axe, what it is going to take away—not its vision for the future. Tragically, we have seen that in the short while they have already been in government. What they are here to do is to destruct, not to construct. I think that is tragic for any government of any day. What we should be here for is the betterment of our nation, not taking things away.

I, like many people after the election, received messages from lots of well-wishers and also from lots of people condemning the Labor Party—and, rightfully, I will add, for how we had conducted and lost the election, and all the rest of it. I wrote to them, and I am going to read part of the letter that I wrote on 26 September and sent out to my constituents. It states:

Sadly we are already seeing what depths this Government will stoop too and the public will no longer have a right to know or question. But Labor can only look to itself and its loss in this campaign and take full credit for our failure to sell achievements or engage with the voters. With this in mind I am even more grateful for your kind words as opposed to criticism during this time of uncertainty and soul searching.

Given our list of achievements were many it is more disappointing that the benefits to the community maybe lost…

I go on to cite what I think are some but not all of the great achievements of the Labor government. Since forming government in 2007, we have achieved some wonderful things. One of our proudest achievements has been reforms to the age pension. It is by far the biggest ever single increase to the pension and also very much in the Labor tradition. We had low unemployment, half the levels of Europe, and more than 960,000 jobs were created. We increased the tax-free threshold—again, a huge achievement—to $18,000, which was a huge boost for low-income earners. Labor bullet-proofed the Australian economy and kept it out of recession during the worst economic downturn in three-quarters of a century. Interest rates were low. Families with a $300,000 mortgage were saving $4,000 a year compared to the Howard-Costello years. Our finances were rock-solid with a AAA credit rating. Affordable high-speed broadband was being delivered to Australians and Australian businesses. This is something that we need to bring us into the 21st century; it is something that is now very much in jeopardy. The government's health agreement delivered more doctors, nurses, beds, shorter waiting lists and less waste.

Regardless of what the current Minister for Health said, we did an enormous amount in this space, and one thing was price disclosure, which actually means more medicines will be on the market for more people to benefit from. There was also pricing carbon, cutting pollution, cutting taxes and compensating seniors by increasing pensions and creating clean energy jobs—that was a huge achievement. I think we will regret abolishing something that will leave the next generation worse off than this one. I do not want to be part of a generation that is leaving the next generation worse off, but I will be, because we will not be doing enough to ensure we have a clean environment for the future. We will be the first generation in history to leave the next generation worse off. There are environment protections, marine parks, the Murray-Darling Basin, increasing national parks—just to name a few—and other environment areas. The government also helped our manufacturers to invest in new equipment to improve energy efficiency and reduce pollution through the billion-dollar Clean Technology Investment Program—another thing that has gone.

Labor invested record amounts in schools over the first four years of the Labor government—$65 billion, which is nearly double the coalition's investment, in its last term. We built or rebuilt facilities—almost 24,000 projects in 9,500 schools, including 500 language and science centres; 2,900 covered outdoor learning areas; and 3,100 libraries. This is something we should be proud of. This is an achievement, not a waste, not a school hall rort. Go to any of your primary schools and tell me they are not happy with what they were given under Building the Education Revolution.

There was more than $36 billion worth in projects around the country after more than a decade of neglect and underspending; there was more money in higher education, which is particularly important in my electorate with two major universities; there was the first ever National Disability Insurance Scheme to ensure that people will have choice and control over the level of support they receive. All of these significant achievements, during our short time in government, are something we need to be rightly proud of—not ashamed of. Sadly, most of these will no longer progress.

I want to very much thank the people of Chisholm for granting me the absolute privilege of representing them again. It was a hard-fought battle and I was outspent 10 to 1. I want to commend John Nguyen, the liberal candidate, who worked tirelessly to knock me off—that man worked really hard to get rid of me! He valiantly went out there, he gave up 12 months of his life and, as he said, he was not going to go away knowing he had not given it his best effort—and he did. He is a genuinely nice bloke and I wish him and his wife, Sarah, well—they have just recently married. But the amount of money spent was staggering, and in the end it actually turned people off. I got calls that people—including my mother—were having to no longer turn up to their favourite petrol station because, when they got to the bowser, and there was a video camera running about how bad Anna Burke and Labor were and how great John Nguyen and the Liberal Party were, that was it.

We need to assess how we campaign and spend money, because in the end the amount of money spent was obscene and people were getting to the point of being overrun with it. In my 15 years in parliament, it was only in the last six years of government that I actually got to go and announce anything in my electorate, because it was the only time money was spent in my seat—vital money for vital resources. My seat is quite well-off; it has a high socioeconomic demographic. That is probably why it is quite astounding that I am still here after 15 years! The Liberal Party still see it as their seat—and fair enough, I get that. I do not see it as my seat—I see it as the people of Chisholm, and they gave me the honour to represent them here.

But it was only in the last six years that I got to go and announce anything, and it was amazing what we achieved: $175 million for the New Horizons Centre for Research Excellence at Monash University, a groundbreaking partnership with CSIRO building technology for the future; $4.7 million for the Monash Enterprise Centre to support small businesses and start-up enterprises, another great project that I have been championing for years, and I was absolutely thrilled that that got through; a billion dollars as part of the investment in the Clayton Manufacturing Innovation Precinct at the New Horizons Centre. As we know, most of the manufacturing that goes on in Australia happens in Melbourne, and a lot of it still goes on in my electorate. A lot of it has been lost, but a lot still goes on and this precinct is there to ensure that we actually revitalise the manufacturing sector in Australia.

There was $160 million for the Monash City Council stormwater harvesting, a great local project; $1.5 million to help local commercial buildings go green; $83.3 million for Building the Education Revolution for 92 projects at 46 local schools, all of them magnificent, and they were exceptionally happy with what they got; $200,000 to double the size of Benwerrin Kindergarten; $2.7 million to Box Hill TAFE for a green skills hub; $16 million for the redevelopment of GippsTAFE in Chadstone, another phenomenal institution doing great work in my electorate and for the future of our country; $60,000 for the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program at Wattle Park Primary School; $62.7 million for the diagnostic imaging package for Monash Medical Centre. It was an absolutely atrocity under the Howard government that at one of the largest hospitals in this country there was no Medicare funded MRI—we sorted that.

There was $150,000 to expand services at Blackburn South Medical Centre; $750,000 for the Eastern Community Legal Centre; $2.3 million for Wembley Park at Box Hill, to keep up the soccer tradition in my electorate—which is huge: with something like 40 per cent of my electorate having been born overseas, soccer is one of the largest games played in my neck of the woods; $4 million for the Batesford Reserve Youth and Community Hub in Ashwood, another thriving centre now that it has been built; $225,000 for the Princes Highway Reserve Pavilion upgrade to benefit the Oakley District Football and Cricket Club and also the Southern Darts League. The Southern Darts League were the most happy on that day, especially when they made me play darts—I was terrible! There was also $71,700 for senior's broadband kiosks across Chisholm and $241,115 for Home and Community Care packages. All of this was delivered in six years, and these are only small amounts we have gone into. In health, there was $75 million for the Translational Medical Centre that is being constructed now at the Monash Medical Centre—a fantastic initiative, translating research as it happens from the lab to the patient at the bed, and we have already seen outcomes from this.

But we are not going to see some things that were promised during the campaign that were funded under the regional development plan. There are projects that we had worked in consultation with the local community for, and I am very sorry to say that we will not be seeing those go ahead. But I understand that Liberal promises made during the campaign will happen. There were only a couple made within my electorate. Again, we keep talking about putting the Clayton railroad level crossing underground; it needs to be done. Somebody needs to bite the bullet. It will cost billions, I understand that—but at some stage the tragedy that is waiting to happen at that intersection will happen, and it needs to be fixed. Everyone has promised it; nobody has done anything about it. The Liberal Party promised it. I will be fascinated to see if we can actually make this happen. One thing that was promised by the Liberal candidate was $150,000 for the Victorian Sikh Association to build a pavilion at Ashwood Reserve. This was a highly divisive announcement and was unpopular with most of the sporting users of the precinct and the council. The council were not consulted. The local community groups were not consulted, besides the Sikh group, who are a fantastic group who use the reserve—but they were the only ones consulted. This is going to go ahead, even though the majority of the community does not want it. I have had the privilege of being in this place in opposition, government and now back in opposition, but it was only during my time in government that I actually saw things happen on the ground.

None of us get here unaided. None of us get here without support. My family have been unwavering in their support of me over these years. My Maddie and John have had no choice because they were both born after I came into this joint, so their lives have been very much dictated by the rhyme and rhythm of parliament. But I am not going to apologise to them for missing out on their lives, because I am going to endeavour that I do not—and I actually have done so, phenomenally. I have not missed things. My famous effort of going to Maddie's first day at school and missing a leadership challenge will go down in the annals of history. But I am still proud of that one: I was there on her first day of school. Mind you, now that she is 14 and we are arguing about the length of her school dress—things change rapidly!

You do not get here without the support of many people, and my children, my endearing husband, my phenomenal mother and all my many brothers and sisters have assisted me. But there are a field of people to thank: Jim Ryan, Luke Maxfield, Peter Chandler, Gabriella Perdomo, Sofia Stensholt, Sinead Mildenhal, Grace Abeykoon, Ahlam Tariq, Megan Berry, Manfred Xavier, Tom Huxom, Conrad Corry and Jacqui Tharatee, who is back in Thailand—thank you; Robert Chong, Sam Lin, Cameron Petrie, Dan Juleff, Dan Hill and Stefanie Perri; the magnificent Howard and Marie Hodgens, who go on and on and on for me; Halina Strnad; Nick Bantounis, who as always was more than generous; Jan and Cyril Kennedy, Lorie and David Werner, Lucy Chen, Marty Mei, Nancy Yang and my team of Chinese volunteers; Malcolm McDonald, Bastian Simrajh, Chris Barcham, Christine Chapel, Alan Clausen, Mark Coffey, Callum Donnelly, Ray Manning, Luke Gahan, Anne Hyde, Gary Dirks, Helen Clement, David Shulz and Janet Baker; the Australian Institute of Maritime Engineers, who are phenomenal; the National Union of Workers; the Finance Sector Union, my old employers, always there to help; Bob Stensholt and Ros Kelleher; and John and Elisabeth Lenders.

I thank, of course, my inimitable staff, Alistair, Janet, Rick, Matt, David and Liana, whose support has been unwavering over many, many years. But the people I want to thank most today are the staff who are no longer with me, Jason Leibish and Lindy Franklyn. Jason has worked for me for the last 10 years; Lindy, for the last six. Both of them, sadly, have been made redundant as I am no longer Speaker. My office now seems a lot quieter without these people. We are missing them greatly, and I love them dearly. They were the backbone of my team, but that is the stake of politics.

I also want to thank Harry Jenkins very much for his great support over my time as Speaker, and the clerks, particularly Bernard Wright—and it is lovely seeing him here today. We are about to see a changing of the guard when Bernard retires after 42 years in this establishment. That is phenomenal. I also thank Peter Stephens and Rosemary Preston, who were just phenomenal in assisting me in the Speaker's office. People do not realise how much goes on in the Speaker's office. It is not just about surviving question time; there is a lot more to it.

The staff member I want to thank most is Chris Paterson. Chris is an amazing member of this august institution but he will no longer be a member of this august institution very shortly, and I am sad about that. Chris started here back in as a Parliamentary Officer Class 5. He was employed in the committee office and cut his teeth working on the Expenditure Committee. In those days, the committee office was housed in East Block. Chris's talents were soon recognised and he was promoted to a grade 7 in less than a year. Chris had a break from parliamentary service when he worked for the Aboriginal Development Commission from 1985 to 1988. When he returned to the Department of the House of Representatives in 1988, Chris again worked in the committee office as a researcher and inquiry secretary.

Chris was and is a first-rate researcher, analyst and adviser. He was also a very deeply respected manager of staff, and a trusted and respected adviser to members. His leadership was recognised in 1999, when Chris was promoted again. All members who worked with Chris will tell you they liked and respected him. Of course, the former Speaker did refer to him as 'Boof', but I will leave it to them to explain that!

In 1999, Chris was transferred to become the Director of the Parliamentary Relations Office—again, a role he performed phenomenally well. This was a whole new area of work for Chris, but his skills and experience stood him in good stead as he mastered the intricacies of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum, and the programming of incoming and outgoing delegations. I first got to know Chris when he was the secretary of my first committee, the economics committee, in this House.

Speaker David Hawker, who had seen Chris in action as a committee secretary, showed great wisdom in asking Chris to become his senior adviser in 2004. He then served Speaker Jenkins and Speaker Slipper, and I also had the privilege of having him on my staff. Chis has thus had the unique experience of working as Senior Adviser to the Speaker under Liberal, Labor and independent Speakers—a phenomenal effort.

Chris's record speaks for itself. He is an amazing individual to work with. He is a mine of information about this place. There is absolutely nothing that goes on in this place that Chris does not know about. We are about to lose one of the greatest servants of this parliament that we have had. I want to pay him the privilege and honour of saying: a very big thankyou, Christopher.

The SPEAKER: Before I call the member for Capricornia, I remind honourable members that this is her maiden speech and I ask that the usual courtesies be extended to her. I have great pleasure in calling the honourable member for Capricornia.