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Thursday, 27 June 2013
Page: 7262

Mr SLIPPER (Fisher) (13:42): Thank you, Madam Speaker. Most members who leave this place do not get to deliver a valedictory speech. I can recall in 1987, a couple of days before the parliament was prorogued, walking into the chamber and looking around sadly noticing that there were people in that parliament who would not be back after the election. I did not really appreciate that I was going to be one of them. So after serving 23 years in this place at the time of the election, if the election is when it has been previously announced, I thought I would deliver this precautionary valedictory speech. Of course, whether I run in the election or not will depend on who ultimately is chosen to be the Liberal National Party candidate for the electorate of Fisher.

No doubt my provisional valedictory speech will be overshadowed by today's events, but I would like to recall some experiences that I have had during my time in this place. When I first sought National Party endorsement in 1984 there were about 42 branches of the National Party in Fisher, with some 2,000 members. There were 11 candidates, or thereabouts, including Clive Palmer—and we have heard a little bit about Mr Palmer in recent days. We went as a caravan from branch to branch. I ultimately won and Clive came second. I do recall at one meeting at Kilcoy we had delivered our stock-standard speeches and Clive looked up when the shire chairman's wife stood up and said, 'Clive, what an absolutely wonderful speech that was, you'll be a real asset to the party,' and then she paused and said, 'When you grow up.'

There are odd quirks in politics and they always say the safer the seat the more marginal the member. I always had a practice, as the member for Fisher, to sign up people whom I had assisted in the hope that if they joined the party and if I were challenged in preselection then they would come along as loyal foot soldiers. One person, Mr Malcolm Brough, came into my office, we helped him and we signed him up into the then Liberal Party. He sought endorsement and I supported him for Longman, where he served for a period, and I suppose in a sense I am responsible for my own predicament.

I would like to relate a story about a recent breakfast I had at the Palmer resort at the invitation of Mr Clive Palmer. I think it was held in the Titanic room. It was a very large breakfast for two people and we had a very interesting conversation. I do recall that Mr Palmer mentioned to me at that time that about Easter last year Mr Brough, accompanied by the member for North Sydney, came to see Mr Palmer to ask him to fund James Ashby's legal fees with respect to the litigation, of which most people listening would be aware. The former Attorney-General, Ms Roxon, the member for Gellibrand, mentioned the possibility of an Ashby-gate royal commission. I have spoken to other senior ministers in the government. I do understand that matter is under active consideration and I would hope that the government moves to see the involvement of members of the opposition, in particular, in what has resulted in a situation where there was an attempt not only, shall we say, to remove the Speaker of the Australian parliament but also to bring down the government of this nation.

I cannot pretend to say that the events since April 2012 have been the best times in the lives of my wife or me or indeed my extended family. One of the unfortunate things, I suppose, is that the name 'Slipper' is so uncommon and so if you happen to have that as a surname people automatically assume an association. I would like to place on the record my thanks to my wife, Inge; to my two children, Nick and Alex; to Nick's wife, Ashlea, and Alex's partner, Ben; to Nick's three little boys, Riley, Henry and Charles; to my parents, Stanley and Joan, now well into their 80s, who were able to be at my first maiden speech but obviously are not here at the moment as they are unable to travel to Canberra. I would like to thank my brothers and their families. I would also like to thank my ex-wife, Lyn, who has always been a great political support to me. I would like to thank my current parents-in-law and former parents-in-law for their support over the years. I would also like to place on record my thanks to my staff over the years. When you have been in parliament for about 23 years, obviously you employ a lot of staff but in particular I would like to thank Tim Knapp, Michelle Ellis, Renee Bandes and Natalia Weaver, who are currently with me.

I would also like to thank my many friends in the National Party, the Liberal Party and the Liberal National Party over the years, my campaign directors and those people who had remained friends even after I departed the Liberal National Party. Of course, I have been serving in this parliament in three political parties—the National Party, the Liberal Party and then the Liberal National Party—and when I accepted the honour of being the Speaker of the Australian parliament I resigned to become an independent Speaker in the Westminster tradition. Some people have likened me to Billy Hughes. I am told that, at the 50th jubilee dinner of the Commonwealth parliament, a speaker paid tribute to him as a man who had sat in every parliament since Federation and every party too. Arthur Fadden interjected, 'Not the Country Party.' 'No,' said Hughes, who was still able to hear when he wanted, 'I had to draw the line somewhere.' So I have not been a member of the Labor Party; I had to draw the line somewhere.

A government member: There's still time!

Mr SLIPPER: The honourable member might well be correct. In fact, last night I thought I might go and announce to all of those people who seemed to be interested in what was happening in the Labor party room that I had joined to acquire an extra number, but my wife said 'over her dead body'.

During the almost quarter of a century I have been in the Australian parliament I have noticed many changes. When I was elected, I was one of the youngest members in the parliament and many members seemed to be my grandfather's age, rather than my father's age, and politics at that stage seemed to be a career which people entered when their children had got to a stage where they did not need both parents at home all of the time. I also recall the many courtesies that used to exist in the parliament, and I thank the Deputy Clerk, David Elder, for putting some of those together for me. I can remember that Bill Hayden wanted to tip a big bucket on me but he was not prepared to do so until I was in the chamber for this to occur, so he then sent the Labor whip to scour parliament House to find me. When he found me, Bill said to me, 'Peter, you'd better come in here. I've got a great big bucket to tip all over you.' Of course, it has been a tradition in this place that a member would not adversely mention another member unless that member had, in fact, contacted the other member to say, 'Hey, I'm going to say something bad about you,' to give the member the opportunity of indeed responding. There are so many traditions and courtesies which are now not observed and, I think, often because new members coming into the parliament are simply not aware that they ever existed.

There was the story of the young man elected to Westminster. He said, 'I really feel I've achieved something. I'm looking across the chamber at my enemies.' An older member said to him, 'Young man, those people over there are the Labor Party. They're your opponents. Your enemies are sitting all around you.' I suspect many of us would be able to relate to that sort of story. I recall Senator Boswell once told me that, if you want a friend in politics, buy a dog. Having said that, I must say that during my period in this place I have been enormously privileged to have friends right across the political divide. In fact, even after I resigned from the Liberal National Party to accept the very high office of Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives, members of all political parties continued to engage and privately remained very good friends with me.

I think the committee system in this place works very well. Members of parliament are often able to put aside ideological differences, and I have been a member of many committees. I have been chairman of many committees. I have been chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. I can recall, in fact, that in the parliament when Labor was elected the now Attorney-General became chairman and I was deputy chairman.

But the thing is that these committees always work well together. I can recall that when I was first elected I was on the House of Representatives Standing Committee—well, not first elected but when I was first elected as a Liberal; it gets confusing when you have been in so many parties!—the chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs was Daryl Melham, the honourable member for Banks. The committee reference with regard to a bill had been passed on to that committee, and we came forward with a report that the government was not entirely happy with. I think Minister Duncan Kerr said he was never going to send that committee another reference. I said: 'Look, you guys control this committee. Why on earth do we send all of those reports off to Senate committees where you do not necessarily control them?' On that committee at the time was Michael Duffy, the former Attorney-General, and John Kerin, the former Minister for Primary Industries. Michael turned around to me with a big, cheesy grin and said, 'They know they can't tell us what to do.'

I was also on the Expenditure Committee when Leo McLeay, former Speaker and Deputy Speaker, was the chairman. I well recall the chook incident, when Mr Deputy Speaker Rocher was sitting in the chair late at night, probably half-dozing. He noticed on the ministerial benches a chook. He said, 'Order!' I think Hansard records 'an incident having occurred'. Then the chook fled, pursued by the then deputy serjeant, to the committee room, which was enjoying a very pleasant, multipartisan committee dinner. The chairman of the committee opened the door when the deputy serjeant knocked, having been sent there by former Mr Speaker Jenkins's father, who was then the Speaker. I am told that Mr McLeay said two words, neither of which anyone would consider to be parliamentary. The second word was 'off''!

Like all honourable members, it has been a great privilege to achieve many things for the electorate of Fisher. It is a beautiful area. The population is rapidly growing. What we need desperately are infrastructure, infrastructure and infrastructure. With question time not far away, time does not permit me to outline all of what I have been able to do as the member for Fisher, but I do want to say that the great satisfactory thing about being a member of this place is the way that we are able to help so many thousands of people access what are their rights. For us it is easy to contact a government department, and often we are able to fix up the problems that people themselves are not able to correct.

I was a whip for a while, and I want to mention that I support the British system whereby the chief whip on both sides ought to be a member of cabinet. Being a whip, of course, is a contradictory position. In one sense you are supposed to be the boss's eyes and ears; in another you are supposed to be the shop steward for the boys and girls. But, as far as a Prime Minister is concerned, in my view it is important that that person be in the cabinet.

I sought to be an independent Speaker in the Westminster tradition, beholden to neither side, and I was prepared to stand at the next election as an independent Speaker on the basis that occurs in the United Kingdom, where the Speaker is not opposed at the election by the major parties. I wanted, as all Speakers do, to be the best Speaker in Australia's history. I wanted to improve standards. I wanted to make this parliament a place that the Australian people could be proud of. I wanted to return to a more traditional sense of attire—with a modern touch. I wanted to make sure that at question time the executive was held to account. When you look at Prime Minister's question time in the United Kingdom, there is spontaneity and interactivity, whereas our parliament often protects mediocrity from both sides, and I think that is regrettable.

I brought in a number of changes: supplementary questions, cuts in time limits and renaming the Main Committee the Federation Chamber. We placed on the forward works list the construction of a permanent home for the Federation Chamber. I would like to thank the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Bernard Wright; the Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives, David Elder; and all the clerk assistants. I must say I had a failure: over many meetings we tried to get the Clerk and the Deputy Clerk to return to a more formal sense of attire. I had not lost that aspiration. I wanted to prove that I was a good Speaker first and I was going to revisit it, but circumstances did not permit that to occur.

I sought to be firm but fair, and I think the record will show what I sought to do at that particular time.

I would like to congratulate Prime Minister Gillard in her role as Prime Minister and new Prime Minister Rudd. I remember when Inge and I got married about seven years ago: I made the traditional groom's speech, looked to Peter Costello and said, 'The next Prime Minister is in the room.' I should have been looking at the next table, where Kevin and Therese were sitting. I was right, but I was looking in the wrong direction.

In my maiden speech as a Liberal in 1993 I said I intended to serve my electorate, my state and this parliament to the best of my ability, and I have endeavoured to do so. At the conclusion of both my maiden speeches—first as a National in 1985 and then as a Liberal in 1993—I adopted the words of Sir Winston Churchill, who said:

… this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

If I recontest the election and am successful in being returned to this place for the ninth time by the people of Fisher then, indeed, it will be a continuation. I thank the House.

The SPEAKER: I congratulate the member for Fisher for his preliminary valedictory and wish him well. It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43.