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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 5717


Ms ANNETTE ELLIS (10:35 AM) —Thank you, Mr Speaker. Wouldn’t it be good if that happened all the time! It is indeed a challenge for me to do justice to almost 15 years in this place in just over 15 minutes. But I suppose I cannot complain about the constraint, given the opportunities I have had over those years to burden our long-suffering Hansard reporters with just under 250 speeches and 40 questions without notice, which I suppose is something I can claim a little pride in. I have to admit, though, that there are probably a lot of people with a higher record than mine—but I have left that to others to prove!

I would like to reflect on these 15 years and, in doing so, I would like to thank a few people. The first thankyou, of course, is to the people of my electorate of Canberra. It is such a special place and it is easy to love every part of it. In this ancestral land of the Ngunawal people, from the Gordon Valley, under the eaves of the snow capped Brindabellas—and they have been of late—to the rural areas to the south, through the picturesque Tuggeranong and Woden valleys and Weston Creek, right into the old heart of the city and the inner south, it is a very beautiful place of idyllic family living, a free and relaxed city, confident in itself and proud of its place at the heart of the democracy of the nation. But it is the double-sided nature of Canberra, the city and the seat of government, which makes it a special place, and this is a subject that I would like to come back to a little later. I thank my fellow Canberrans for the trust they have placed in me. I can genuinely say that representing them in this place has been pretty special.

I want to thank the people of the ACT Labor Party. Of course, Bill Hayden famously said, ‘Hell hath no fury compared to the ACT ALP.’ The real quote, of course, is: ‘Hell hath no fury compared to a woman scorned.’ Well, I am glad to say that neither quote described my experience. In fact, on both counts, the contrary is very much the case. The ACT branch is a wonderfully loyal and talented part of the ALP that makes a major contribution to the federal party in so many different ways. It has been a great honour to be their choice to represent the people of Canberra and I thank them for their support.

I have been fortunate to enjoy wonderful support from so many gifted and generous individuals over my career. Sadly, I cannot and will not try to list all of them here, so I want to thank all of my supporters, both inside and outside the party, who have done so much to help me over my 15 years as the member for Canberra and, originally, the member for Namadgi. I want to issue a special thanks to the members of Centre Coalition, my own party grouping; to the trade unions in the ACT, whose support I have always valued; and most especially, of course, to my own staff through all of the years who have worked so tirelessly and effectively for me on both the bright and the darker days.

I want to thank the member for Fraser and Senator Kate Lundy. Bob and Kate and I have formed what I would call an effective triumvirate in this territory, and I am happy to think we have grown to four recently with Mike Kelly in Eden-Monaro not that far away. I want to thank the previous long-serving member for Canberra, Ros Kelly, for her encouragement and her strong mentoring role. I also need and want to recall the contribution of Terry Connolly, a close friend and former Attorney-General in the ACT who, sadly, passed away three years ago.

I came to this place at an immense time of change in Australia. A long period of Labor government had come to a stark end and a new period of uncertainty was emerging in Australian political life. I want to remind the House of the shock the people of Canberra had to face through significant Public Service cutbacks at the time which caused considerable pain for many of my constituents and saw this community plunge into a recession. It was indeed a very challenging time. I also recall the manner in which a former member for Oxley announced the arrival of the One Nation Party on the national scene.

But Labor’s response to this time of uncertainty was defined by the tremendous campaign waged by federal Labor under Kim Beazley in 1998, when we actually won the popular vote. Difficult times followed, with the tough debate on the GST legislation and the stressful period of East Timorese independence, but Labor remained a strong and effective opposition and our electoral prospects looked positive in 2001. Then came the flow of asylum seekers, and the infamous Tampa incident on that fateful dawn of 24 August 2001. Then there was the ‘children overboard’ affair—in my view, one of the darkest days of government in Australia, eventually leading later to the tragic so-called ‘Pacific solution’ to deal with the issue of asylum seekers. As I reflect on this period and the long cold years of opposition that followed it, I cannot but conclude that Australia seemed to retreat in on itself a little. The great compassionate element to the Australian personality, which I cherish and see as crucial to the national personality, seemed to grow just a little dimmer over those years.

Although overall these were very tough times for those on this side, there were some extremely rewarding things occurring for me. I was given the opportunity to come to the shadow ministry, with responsibility at different times for family and community services, ageing, seniors and disabilities. I am very grateful for the confidence my colleagues placed in me to hold those important roles. I had the opportunity to push the social justice concerns which I am passionate about and, I believe, position the ALP fairly well in policy terms.

I would like to leave a message here today. I think Australia is still coming to terms with the issue of disability. There is a need for an increased consciousness in the nation of the enormous challenges that those with disabilities face and the incredible strains placed on those that care for them. There is no doubt that, over time, decisions have been taken to help improve opportunities and life participation for those living with disability. However, they need more support from us, the Australian community, and we need to work more closely with them to deal with the immense practical day-to-day challenges that they face. I do not in any way wish to diminish the gains made and the work that has been done. But there is a need for a change in national consciousness and I hope that I, along with colleagues, have played some small part in assisting this.

A courageous policy response is also called for. We do need to think seriously about a national disability insurance scheme, federally funded as Medicare is. Such a scheme would be a significant change, but it has to be placed firmly on the debate for social policy reform in this country. We now await the Productivity Commission inquiry, which is due to report in July 2011.

I want to make a few other points which I think are really important. I do not think there is a political cookie cutter that you can use to cut out the shape of the perfect politician. If so, it certainly wasn’t used on me! But my point is that there is no one profile for success in this place. I entered this parliament slightly further along the age scale than many—well, not many, but some—and without the perceived advantage of a tertiary education. I carry these two elements with a certain sense of pride and I encourage others out there to consider what they might do. Also, I loved very much being on Labor’s front bench but I also loved the work that I have done as a normal parliamentarian. I reckon there is a bit of a mentality around that unless you have got to sit up the front then you have not really made it.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!


Ms ANNETTE ELLIS —Those who haven’t are all here, hearing from me!

Honourable members—Hear, hear!


Ms ANNETTE ELLIS —I do not agree with that at all. Some of the best things I have done to serve this House have been in the committee work I have been involved with. I have certainly done my fair share. I calculate that I have served to some degree on around 50 inquiries. I want to mention two, but before I do I want to take the opportunity to thank the incredibly professional committee staff that we have in this place. Their calibre is incredibly high and, may I say, there are not enough of them. We need to pay attention to that.

The 2½-year inquiry into Indigenous health, leading to the Health is life report in 2000, was in my view a significant turning point in facing up to the scandal of Indigenous health in Australia. It was a long and difficult journey and I know that it changed the attitudes of the members in this House who were involved. I was also very fortunate to chair the inquiry into the challenges facing carers and their support needs. I am glad to say that the report’s key recommendation—to increase financial assistance for carers—has been acted on by this government, along with other important recommendations. Of course, there is always much still to be done.

Another great privilege I enjoyed in this place was to see the apology given so eloquently by the Prime Minister to the victims of the stolen generation. I know that all those around me were, like me, deeply aware of the power of the moment, the quiet sacredness of it and the real healing that it can and will lead to and has led to. This of course flowed from the excellent Bringing them home report, which we on this side read into the Hansard through the adjournment debate back in 1997, if I recall, because the government of the day would not allow us to debate it.

But where I want to conclude is to return to where, of course, it all counts the most: my work in the electorate. I have been asked many times lately what has been my biggest or best achievement during this career. I look at it in a slightly different way. It has been a privilege to be able to assist individuals or families or local organisations within my community in a very personal way at times. No matter the issue, if you are able to guide them through difficult times or circumstances, to me that is the great achievement. So there have been thousands of great achievements. Over the years, people have shared their private and personal stories with me, and I have to thank them for their trust and confidence in so doing.

As well, I must recall that fateful Saturday in 2003—and I look at the member for McEwen as I do this—when this city was under terrible threat. The Canberra bushfires were a shocking and horrendous experience, but we saw the best in people at the same time. I had the privilege of being appointed to the ACT Chief Minister’s bushfire recovery community reference committee and worked very closely with a variety of community representatives for over 18 months. The bushfire recovery response processes established by the ACT government were remarkable in their structure and detail. They became a model for emergency response generally and, I believe, had some reflection in the Victorian processes.

Now I want to make a comment specifically about this wonderful city, as I did in my maiden speech. It is a home to people born here and people who have chosen to move here for work or other reasons. They make up a great little Australian community. They also happen to live in the country’s national capital, and they are very proud to do so. They do their bit to promote the national capital, to defend it when the odd sledging comes along—and that comes along a little bit too often—and to care for it. They realise that at that level it does not belong just to them; it actually belongs to the whole country—to all the people in all the electorates represented here in this House. So, if I could leave a parting request, please, please, please always remember that this city has two personalities: it is a local community, much like every other local community represented here, but it happens also to be the national capital of all of Australia. It is a city we would like all Australians to be particularly proud of. May I remind you that its centenary is coming up in 2013.

I very much cherish the opportunity I have had to serve the people of Canberra. It is a very large electorate in population terms—we should have a third seat soon, one would hope—and the demands have always been there. I have made working with community groups a key focus. I am proud, like many members in this place, to be a patron of a number of organisations. They include groups such as the ACT Eden Monaro Cancer Support Group, the Tuggeranong Festival, the Australia Thailand Association, the Tuggeranong Hawks Football Club, Special Olympics ACT Region and Arthritis ACT, to name but a few. These and so many other groups have given me so much energy and enjoyment. I also cannot help but mention the thrill I have had at seeing my much loved Sydney Swans play so many games at Manuka Oval. I am sorry to see they are diminishing in number. I only hope to enjoy seeing many more in future footy seasons. I hope the ACT Minister for Sport and Recreation hears that comment.

I did my thankyous at the beginning but I have left a couple till the end. I want to thank all the Parliament House staff who do such a wonderful job helping us. We know it is not easy, as we pollies can sometimes be a high-maintenance bunch of people. I will mention all of them, I hope—the attendants, Hansard, the clerks, the drivers, the printers, the cleaners, the library staff, the plumbers, the painters, the education unit. If I have missed you out, please forgive me, but this place would not operate without all of you.

My last thankyou is to my caucus companions and my colleagues opposite. It has been a delight—in fact, an absolute privilege—sitting here with you. Of course, it is the friendships with the people you work with that make this business so rewarding. I thank you for helping me in this difficult yet privileged role of serving the Australian democracy for almost 15 long, happy years. It will depend on when the election is called whether I reach that 15-year mark. In conclusion, Mr Speaker, my thanks to you as well and to all of my colleagues, both present and past. I would like to mention a couple in particular: Graham Edwards, who left the House a couple of elections ago, and was a great friend and mentor to me; and Janice Crosio, who left a little bit earlier than that, and under whose wing I was placed on the first day I came into this place. Any ill behaviour I have displayed I attribute entirely to her! I am sure she is proud of the one time that I was ejected from the chamber! Mr Speaker, I thank you.


The SPEAKER —To the member for Canberra, I say that I will always cherish the association and working with her on a number of parliamentary and caucus committees where I was advantaged by her sharing her insight and compassion.