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Monday, 30 November 2020
Page: 10049


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (18:23): I rise in support of this motion by the member for Indi and, in particular, I would like to use this time to talk about the Menzies-Calwell club that is very much championed not only by the member for Indi but also the member for Bennelong, who is also here today, and a number of other honourable members. This club is about bringing together all sides of politics to talk about policy ideas and not to regress into partisan pointscoring. It is a club or a connection open for all, and they meet every Tuesday lunchtime. The name recognises the extraordinary friendship between two former members, two gentlemen: the late Robert Menzies, the longest serving Prime Minister of Australia, and the then Leader of the Opposition Arthur Calwell.

In September 2009 The Conversation's Michelle Grattan made a podcast with the daughters of these two gentlemen, Heather Henderson nee Menzies and Dr Mary Elizabeth Calwell. I would urge anyone who is interested in politics to find it and listen to it. It is free and it is really quite inspiring. The women share personal stories of their fathers and talk about that extraordinary friendship of those two gentlemen. The women were honest and open and acknowledged the friendship had its rough moments, such as during the Vietnam War, but it endured. Why did it endure? Well, because, for one, they respected each other. While they may not have agreed, they recognised the other person's point of view as a legitimate alternative. Politics was less about personality and it was more about policy because we had an impartial and objective Public Service that was able to give free and frank advice. Interestingly, the daughters also remarked on the absence of political staffers, who they think were perhaps a little less helpful as far as supporting the connection between members of parliament in this place. It endured because Calwell and Menzies recognised the importance of empathy, knowledge and experience. Perhaps it was a gentler time. Perhaps it was a time when people were just more respectful of each other.

I know that my community want to see politicians in this place work together. They hate the bickering. They hate watching question time. They hate the noise, the shouting and the performance. They want to see us work together for the good of the nation, and I think that's what Menzies and Calwell wanted to see. My community—and I think this speaks for many communities in Australia—don't want to see political pointscoring or factional games or the idea that we won't put something forward just because it's not done by the ruling party. They want to see this place used for what it should be used for—that is, the contest for great ideas and the contest for debate. As someone who sits on the crossbench and who often sees herself as a bit like the Switzerland of the parliament—and I think that is probably something that most crossbenchers feel about themselves—I can say that we don't do tribal politics. That means that we're open to talking to any member of parliament about good ideas, because we are all here for the same people. We all have the same employers—the people who elect us.

I hope that this motion encourages some new members to come along to the Menzies-Calwell lunch and to perhaps reflect on those great gentlemen of times gone by, to perhaps debate pieces of legislation or at least have a robust discussion about what a federal integrity commission should look like, and to perhaps be a little honest with each other around integrity in this place and how we lift ourselves up and how we lift each other up in order for this to be a better place and for us to be better representatives. So I commend the member for her motion, and I look forward to continuing to sit down at the table at the Menzies-Calwell lunch.