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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 235

Mr BOWEN (McMahon) (20:56): We are in this House privileged from time to time to be part of history. Tonight the member for Griffith has once again shared that privilege with us. My proudest moment as a member of parliament, some years ago, was sitting where the member for Ryan is currently sitting while Kevin Rudd delivered the apology to Australia's Indigenous people. It was, I think, the proudest moment many of us—I say this without a hint of partisanship—on this side of the House have felt and are likely to feel.

It has been commented by members opposite that Kevin Rudd defeated the person those honourable members think was the best Prime Minister in Australia's history. We would beg to differ, but we would say this: he defeated the most formidable conservative campaigner in Australia's history, and that is no mean feat. In delivering that election victory to our side of politics, he enabled many people on this side of politics to do many good things. The apology has been mentioned. The abolition of what we would say, then and now, was a very unfair set of arrangements through Work Choices was achieved because of that election victory. In good time, it enabled education reform and the establishment of an enduring social reform through the national disability scheme, DisabilityCare. He worked with his colleagues on this side of the House for those reforms—reforms which will stand the test of time.

In 2007, those of us on this side of the House, who were here in opposition, were not convinced we were going to win that election. History has a habit of looking inevitable in retrospect. There was nothing inevitable about that victory, just as there was nothing inevitable about the Prime Minister's victory in this election. History is made by those of us who participate in it. The Labor Party asked the member for Griffith, Kevin, to take the leadership and thus to deliver that victory over Australia's most formidable campaigner—certainly of the postwar era.

I associate myself with the remarks of all. We are often critical of the Prime Minister, but I think the Prime Minister just gave the best speech he has ever given in this House. His gracious remarks towards the member for Griffith were well meant and well received.

Being Prime Minister is, as has been mentioned, an enormous honour, but it is also an enormous sacrifice. As the member for Grayndler mentioned, the party called upon Kevin to return to the leadership earlier this year. It was not a call that was necessarily in his best interests to accept. He could have sat back and declined the call. He knew when he took the prime ministership that the odds were long. He knew when he took the Labor Party's leadership that it could well end in defeat—that it most likely would. However, he saw it as his responsibility to take the leadership and he has much to be proud of, as does Julia Gillard and as does everybody who served as ministers and supporters of the previous government.

I am very proud to regard myself as a friend of Kevin, FOK. It is quite a ride being a friend of Kevin. He does provide thrills and spills. But it is always an honour, as it has been tonight. In what I regard as the finest political autobiography I have been able to read, Dennis Healy's autobiography, The Time of My Life, he wrote about being regarded as the greatest Prime Minister Britain never had and reflected on that. He wrote that it would have been better to have been Prime Minister than to not have been because of the opportunity to contribute. He is right about that, of course. From the member for Griffith's point of view, it was better that he became Prime Minister, because he had the chance to do much good for his nation and much good for his party.

His party reforms will endure, just as his national reforms will endure. The process that we have just gone through—and both the member for Maribyrnong and the member for Grayndler would agree—was a good one. The member for Maribyrnong might agree a little more strongly with that, but they would both agree on that. I believe that in time it will infect other political parties and Australia's body politic will be all the better for it. I also believe that the member for Griffith as a relatively young man has much to contribute to Australia and to the world and will do so in another form and in different ways. But the contribution that he has made is there for all to see.