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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 4174

Senator HUMPHRIES (Australian Capital Territory) (17:27): On the night 10½ years ago when I gave my first speech in this place, I was unfortunate enough to have that speech coincide with the decision of then government to go to war in Iraq, which rather deprived my speech of some of the attention that it deserved. Another war seems to have conspired similarly tonight. I must be cursed in some way, I suppose!

I was preselected for the ACT Senate seat made vacant by Margaret Reid retiring in late 2002 after the last sitting for that year of the legislative assembly. I resigned from the assembly before its first sitting in 2003 before it had a chance to say goodbye and so, with your indulgence, Mr President, I will make this my valedictory from two parliaments not one.

I entered the Senate in 2003 as the 500th Australian to do so since 1901. I would have mentioned that fact in my first speech if I had been aware of it. Obviously, I am employing better researchers today than I did back then. I first entered this chamber with a sense of pride and of awe but wondering how I would translate from being a big fish in the nation's smallest pond to being a small fish in its biggest. I confess to more than a few moments of dislocation and bewilderment in those early days. Coming from a place where I had been in charge, I found it hard to work out just how things got done up here on the hill.

In fact, it was the then arts minister, Senator Rod Kemp, who provided me with the breakthrough insight I needed. The National Film and Sound Archive had suddenly announced that it was sending part of its function to Sydney and I was mightily upset by this. In a rather agitated state, I rang Rod and said: 'Mate, this is just dreadful. What can we do about this?' He responded by saying calmly: 'Well, Gary, you're the local member. If you don't like it, it's not going to happen.' I put down the phone and thought, 'Well, that's how you get things done; you throw a tantrum.'

Getting things done is, of course, the business of politics. Every one of us blessed with the honour of holding a seat in parliament knows that the honour comes with a responsibility. We need to make a difference with the time we are granted. Change in the world around us is inevitable, and the rate of change seems to have accelerated in the 24 years I have served in these two parliaments. Managing this change—ensuring that it best serves the people we were elected to look after—is a deep responsibility. The biggest change this community of Canberra has had to deal with, perhaps, has been the advent of self-government, back in 1989. The citizens of this territory were quite determined that they would not be detached from the teat of a bountiful Commonwealth. And when they were, they expressed their disgust—in no uncertain terms—at the inaugural election of that year. The major parties managed to scrape up just nine seats between them, out of an assembly of 17, and a period of uncertainty and two changes of government in less than three years followed. It was a strange experience to enter a parliament that most citizens did not want. And so began the long, slow grind of persuading our reluctant population that it was actually better to have a local person deciding which potholes would be filled and which bus routes would be diverted than to have a person who flew in each week from Melbourne or Hobart deciding that.

That was a real baptism of fire for a 30-year-old newbie politician. After being a salesman for self-government, WorkChoices was a cinch. The responsibilities I was given in successive ACT governments were extraordinarily broad, since everybody in the phone-box government that is necessary in a boutique parliament has to wear a lot of hats. I personally wore just about every hat there was to wear. I particularly enjoyed the challenge of being the Territory's Attorney-General for five years. But, for a man who always got his wife to do the annual tax returns, the prospect of being appointed Treasurer in 1999 was the most daunting. The role appealed more to my children than to me. When the Chief Minister told me about her intention, I went home and into my then six-year-old son, Felix's, bedroom to tell him about what the Chief Minister was about to do and how I was about to become the Treasurer. He sat up in bed, his eyes as wide as saucers, and asked, 'Daddy, are you gonna be a pirate?' I thought, 'Very perceptive kid, at that age'!

Representing the ACT at both levels of government has been a challenge and a privilege. I make no bones about it: this is a special community. This is the Australian treasure house. The great national institutions around us are the repository of the things that describe the achievements, the aspirations, the challenges and the uniqueness of the Australian experience. And the community in which they are set is highly educated, has a high disposable income, is highly politically literate and has a social conscience—and I would not have it any other way. What a glorious privilege it has been to be a parliamentary guardian of this community set in the bush, the largest inland city in the nation, a place that in significant respects has lived up to the ambition Lord Denman described for it in 1913, when he hoped it would be 'the city beautiful of our dreams'. I was appointed to the Senate just days after a hellish bushfire burnt through Canberra, destroying 500 homes and killing four people. The 'city without a soul', so called, bared at that moment a beating heart to the rest of the nation as we suffered together and reached out to those who had lost so much. Ten years later, this same city proudly celebrates its centenary.

I know Canberra baiting is a national sport, but amid the send-ups and jibes let none of us forget how much of our past and our future as a nation is tied to this city's destiny. As far as our past is concerned, I remind my colleagues in the Liberal Party in particular that we are the party that overwhelmingly has shaped the Canberra of today. The three greatest builders of this city were, in order, Bob Menzies, John Howard and Malcolm Fraser. Go to the roof of this building and look out across the landscape and what you will see is an almost uninterrupted vista of projects and institutions initiated by Liberal-National governments. To run down Canberra is to sell short the proud legacy of this side of the chamber. Menzies, the greatest Liberal of all, was passionate about Canberra and accelerated the relocation of some 5,000 public servants and their departments, such as Defence, from places like Melbourne to Canberra. Canberra's population grew from 28,000 in 1954 to 93,000 by the time Menzies retired in 1966.

Canberra is pivotal to the future we make for our nation. Central to that proposition is the Australian Public Service. No less than any mineral sitting in the ground, no less than any produce from the land, the APS is an asset owned by and of enormous value to the Australian people. It is the vehicle through which every national government since Federation has delivered on its promises and will again be central to the great changes we in the coalition will need to effect if we are honoured with the privilege of government after September, as those of my colleagues in this place who have been ministers before know full well. The APS was a trusted and professional partner when coalition governments of the past delivered the Colombo Plan, state aid to non-government schools, the ANZUS and SEATO treaty agreements, the Medicare safety net and work for the dole. This is not to deny that a coalition government should and will find savings, including by reducing the size of the Commonwealth payroll. That is, without any shadow of doubt, an essential step in restoring the budget surpluses that will be the vehicle to deliver on our national ambitions. I argue merely that quality should not be sacrificed when quantity is cut.

I spoke about the responsibility we all have in politics to make a difference with the time we are granted. I recently asked myself what difference I have made with my time. There was, in the early days of ACT self-government, so much to be done. I am proud to point to a number of things that I as a minister initiated and obtained recurrent funding for in the territory: the ACT Hospice, the Tuggeranong Arts Centre, the consolidation of the city's two major public hospitals on to one site, allowing for a teaching hospital to be developed, nation-leading defamation laws, the Territory's first 24-hour mental health crisis service, the city's first birthing centre, and many others. I am perhaps most particularly proud, however, of the Snowy Hydro SouthCare Rescue Helicopter service, perhaps because everyone said it would never happen—particularly the public servants who were supposed to be making it happen. There is no record of how many lives this service has saved in the last 14 years of its existence.

At the federal level, achievements for those who are not ministers are more fine-grained and collegiate. Two such achievements stand out. I put my shoulder to the wheel with other senators during the inquiry into mental health in 2006 and various inquiries into children in institutional care, leading, respectively, to a blossoming of new mental health services in 2006 and the apology to the Forgotten Australians in 2009—seminal achievements, I believe, of the last decade.

I hope that my contribution to the development of coalition policies for this year's election will lead to other achievements, albeit ones that others will deliver. I am proud to have been part of this great chamber of review for this past decade, and I have tried to uphold its best traditions and advocate for its relevance and purpose.

One of the weapons used against me in the recent ACT Senate preselection was that I had crossed the floor to vote against the party, the implication being that, by doing so, I was not quite an authentic Liberal. Can I take this opportunity tonight to remind my party that the ability of its members to cross the floor to defend the primacy of their conscience and judgement occasionally, against the dictates of the whips' call, is a practice that defines Liberalism in this country and sets it apart from the Labor Party. Sometimes we need to stand up for a higher principle, and our ability to do so underscores that, essentially, Liberal MPs and senators are the products of their communities, not of a party machine, and that this device is a strength, not a weakness. Although I was the only Liberal senator to cross the floor in the life of the Howard government, I am pleased to say that I have led something of a revival of the tradition in subsequent days—a trendsetter, if you like! Even as late as this week, some of our colleagues have taken the opportunity to exercise that very important right, and I remind all of us that none of them are less a Liberal for having done so.

In any case, I think I have enough brownie points to warrant some indulgence. I roughly estimate that, over the last 24 years, I have voted in divisions and on the voices in accordance with the whips' direction approximately 55,272 times. That is a lot of loyalty. I have a perfect attendance record in the Senate; I have never missed a day of the Senate sitting. And I have only ever missed one division in this place in 10½ years. Okay—it was for the sale of Telstra, I admit! But nobody is perfect.

I am, and always have been, a Liberal to the core. I have, for more than three decades, been investing in an enduring message—not a slogan, but a conviction—that the Liberal way is about creating communities that are stronger, more prosperous and more secure, and that this message has a relevance at every level of Australian government. That investment has paid dividends. I am proud, for example, that former Gary Humphries staffers now sit in three Australian parliaments, with more yet to come.

There are many tonight I need to thank. So many have lighted my way or lightened my load. I acknowledge my predecessor, Margaret Reid, who is here tonight. The first woman to be President of the Senate, she was a paragon of hard work and dignity. I acknowledge Amanda Vanstone, who first brought me to the Senate as a staff member and who taught me the value of a sense of humour in politics. My predecessor as Chief Minister, Kate Carnell, is also here tonight. She was an extraordinary woman to work with, and an exceptional person in so many ways. I have never seen a more courageous politician—a compliment meant only slightly in the Yes Minister sense. My little place in history is secured by having served as deputy leader to the first, and so far the only, woman to head a Liberal government in Australia.

I pay tribute to those who served as my ministers in the brief but glorious Camelot that was the Humphries government. I do not know why you are laughing! But I think you are on side. The Territory has been exceptionally lucky to find many fine ministers in each administration, despite the ridiculously small gene pool from which they are drawn.

My time here in the federal parliament has been enriched by the privilege of working with some exceptional people. Attempting to pick out all of those people would be sheer foolishness. Allow me to mention a few. To the four shadow ministers I have served as shadow parliamentary secretary, Scott Morrison and Kevin Andrews, and, more recently, George Brandis and David Johnston, I pay tribute. These men will, I feel, be called on to play great roles in the affairs of our country in the near future, and they have the heart and character to carry off that great responsibility. I also acknowledge Luke Hartsuyker, who I represent in this chamber on matters youthful and sporty.

Heart and character lie thick on the ground in this Senate. It has been an extraordinary experience to serve with the remarkable people who make up this place. I single out only one for mention tonight, and only because he is about to bail out of this place: Barnaby Joyce. In the version of this speech I saved last night before going home, I was going to say that Barnaby is about to attempt the political equivalent of Daniel Craig leaping from a speeding Bentley and landing on a moving train. I have had to modify that slightly as a result of today's events; perhaps it is more a case of stepping off a stationary train on to a platform now! I hope I have not jinxed you, Barnaby; I am sorry.

I put on record my thanks to the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, for his loyalty and support during my recent preselection battle. On the day in 2009 the Liberal Party elected Tony Abbott as its leader, I thought it had made a serious mistake. Today, I see in Tony Abbott a man ready in every way to lead this nation and who will confound his critics to make a fine Prime Minister.

The people who power this building and keep it running smoothly, despite the politicians, are owed a great deal by all of us. The gracious Senate attendants, the cheeky security staff, the omnicognisant procedural officers, the Hansard staff who practise the dark art of turning our gobbledygook into statesman-like addresses and the drivers who are always the first to know, I thank them all most sincerely.

I have been blessed by truly exceptional staff members of my own over those 24 years. I was inspired years ago by the American movie Dave to always choose staff who, if I fell into a coma, would do my job in the interim better than I could. My present staff fall very much into this mould: Danielle, Pat, Cam, Jules and, above all, the indefatigable Ross. I owe them and all who sailed with me over the years, and there are more than a few in the gallery tonight, more than I can say. I hope your talents and loyalty are not lost to the Liberal Party. Of my former staff, I need to particularly thank Rowan Greenland and Stephen Forshaw for outstanding service.

My family has shared this journey with me every step of the way. My wife married a politician and my sons were born to a politician. In fact, Cathy has trod these halls and those of the Old Parliament House for longer than I have. I thank her for her wise counsel and unfailing support. To my sons, Felix and Owen, thank you for standing up for me, even when I missed so much of your growing up because of the job that I did.

I wish Tony Abbott and my party colleagues the best of luck at the coming election. I will take this opportunity, however, to offer some advice to my colleagues in the event they are favoured by the Australian people with the privilege of government later this year. As the only person on this side of the chamber to have actually led a government—there are three on the other side of the parliament but only me on this side—I think I am entitled to offer a little advice.

Set yourselves sensible nation-building goals in government worthy of the best traditions of the coalition but not beholden to the values of a former age. Having chosen those goals, stick to them; talk about them with passion so that the Australian people never fail to associate you with those goals. They may not always share those goals but they will give you credit for having convictions that do not crumble in the face of an adverse opinion poll. Listen carefully to the voices of those affected by those goals, remembering that in such exchanges there is sometimes no voice for the greater public interest. Above all, take full and careful stock of the cold, hard evidence in all its comfortless ugliness. A government that continually skips that stage of the process, relying instead on hunches and focus groups, is destined for grief. Calibrate your actions not by the next news poll but by what historians will say about those actions. After a period in office, measure success or failure by whether, objectively speaking, Australians have more control over their lives—whether more of what they earn stays in their pocket, whether they have more chance of building something or producing something or achieving something worthwhile than they had before you came along, and whether they are more hopeful about their future. In that process, however, remember that there are many Australians who will never have effective control over their lives. Ensure they too have a respectable share of the choices this great and wealthy nation confers on its citizens.

Mr President, I thank you, my Senate colleagues—the visitors from the other place have obviously just gone to something much more important—and the many family and friends who have travelled here to be with me and my family on this special night. I particularly thank the many members of the ACT Division of the Liberal Party who are present here tonight. Of course, if you had been here on the night of my preselection, I might not be giving my valedictory speech tonight, but que sera, sera! I thank you all for your loyalty and support of me over a long career. It would not have been possible without that affectionate support from a party and a community which have obviously shared so many steps along the way. Thank you.

The PRESIDENT: Senators not partaking in the further valedictory speech will leave the chamber or resume their seats. That would be helpful.