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Tuesday, 22 May 2001
Page: 26687

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) (3:48 PM) —I consider myself to be still a relatively new member of this place. On the very solemn occasions when you, Mr Speaker, ask us to rise for a minute's silence as a mark of respect for a previous member, in that minute of silence I often reflect on the spirits that must be breezing around in this chamber and on the fact that, even though I cannot identify the name and I do not know what they did in this place, their spirit continues to live on in this chamber.

There is a very special place for Peter Nugent in this chamber because he was a champion of a very important cause. He was a champion of modern liberalism. He was a champion of small `l' liberalism which has pride of place in the broad church of the modern Liberal Party. In many ways the friendship between the member for La Trobe and the former member for Aston is a reflection of the broad church of the Liberal Party, the fact that a small `l' liberal such as Peter Nugent can take a leadership role within the moderates and hold deep philosophical views about the importance of liberalism, can work with a number of others to get the John Stuart Mill Society up and running, even though it has not met for a little while, and at the same time also embrace as very close friends people who may have at times differing views on a particular social policy.

One of the reasons why I say Peter's place is in this chamber for evermore is that I remember that, when I came in as a new member in 1996, like so many new members I struggled with what I was going to say in my maiden speech. After my speech, there were only two new members left to deliver their maiden speeches, the member for Oxley and the member for North Sydney. I decided to give a speech about modern liberalism. Immediately after my speech, the member for Oxley rose and made a speech which will have no pride of place, I believe, in this chamber. But it was her maiden speech and she believed in it. When your instincts say, `This is just not right,' and you really want to say something but as a new member you do not know how to say it, you turn to people with experience and you look to them for leadership. Peter Nugent was a person who showed immediate leadership by immediately coming into this chamber and saying, `I refute your position.' That gave me a lot of courage to stand up in this place to say what I think and to react to the instincts that we all hold dear.

There was a humorous side to Peter Nugent which sometimes can be lost in these motions. I well remember that in late 1997 the member for Grayndler, the member for Watson—the Chief Opposition Whip—the member for Gippsland, Peter Nugent and I were invited to go on a trip to the Middle East. We decided that it was a good idea to take my father along, for two reasons: firstly, because he spoke Arabic and Hebrew and he would be able to understand whether the taxidrivers were ripping us off, and, secondly, because we did not want Peter to be the elder statesman of the trip—even though we made him the leader, because we all agreed that Leo McLeay was certainly not diplomatic enough to balance the interests of Israel and Palestine and Egypt on the one trip, let alone the member for Grayndler.

I recall being in a van crossing the desert from Egypt to Israel after Peter had had some very unsettling Arab food the night before. We stopped in the middle of the desert so that he could exit the van: there were certainly no facilities around. It was quite a scene there in the desert with this fairly old van, with Peter Nugent standing outside and with complete red earth. There were a few jokes inside the van, as you can imagine, and we thought that we should share one with Peter. When Peter hopped into the van I said to him, `Don't worry, mate. Moses had a rough trip across the desert as well, from Egypt into Israel.' He did not see the humour in that, I must say, so we decided not to have any more jokes at his expense. But we also understood that he was a great source of advice in handling the very delicate situation involving discussions with the governments of Israel, Palestine and so on.

Finally, let me say that I think it is very important that we all take an opportunity to reflect on Peter's contribution not only to international affairs but particularly to the people of Aston. One night when I was with him—we had a function in his office, organised by his team—I had the opportunity to have a long chat to some of his key supporters in the Liberal Party, particularly his conference president. We all stated how important it was for Peter to be with us and to continue as the member for Aston for an extended period. When you meet a whole lot of people in the local area you always get a sense of how well liked a member is and how much they appreciate his contribution. There was a very strong admiration within the Liberal Party in Aston for what Peter was doing. There was a great determination to ensure that he was back at the next election because he was making a great contribution not only to the parliament on behalf of the people of Aston but also, and I think importantly, to all those people that care about human rights anywhere in the Australian community.

We then went to the function at the restaurant which the member for La Trobe talked about. Again, walking around the room I clearly sensed that Peter had a very loyal band of supporters who would do anything to support his re-election. Importantly, they were giving their support because they liked him. When we stepped outside the restaurant and it was just Peter and me I said to him, `Mate, we really want you. We really need you back.' He said, `Don't worry. Just fix up the problems with the financial planners.' I said, `I'll fix that, but we really want you back because you are very important to us.' He said, `Joe, it's not so much about me being in parliament: it's about how important it is to do the right thing.' Those are words that will live with me for evermore. Certainly, on each occasion when we rise to think about the spirits that are above us in this chamber in memory of another member who may have passed on, I will be thinking about Peter Nugent.