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Thursday, 18 August 2005
Page: 124

Senator PARRY (5:47 PM) —This is the final first speech of all the 15 senators who were elected in October 2004. I can see relief in some senators’ faces. Whilst not agreeing entirely with the content of some speeches that have taken place before me, may I commend my colleagues for the passion and delivery of their first speeches in this chamber.

I am a Tasmanian by birth and come from a line of many generations of Tasmanians. In fact, I am a descendant of the First Fleet convicts who arrived on 26 January 1788 onboard the ships the Scarborough and the Prince of Wales. I left home at the age of 16—much to the joy of my mother, I think—joining the Tasmanian police force as one of their youngest ever recruits. After 10 years as a police officer I became a funeral director, eventually buying the longstanding family business with my wife, Allison.

As a result of my vocations I am conversant with many sides of life. Like all good senators I bring to the Senate an additional range of experiences. I have been to government and non-government schools, I have been an employee and an employer, I have been a public servant and I have been in the private sector. I know people. I have dealt constantly with people: people under pressure, people who are suffering, the wealthy, the poor, our youth, people with disabilities, criminals, the mentally challenged, sexual assault victims, drug users, the bereaved, the traumatised, prostitutes, beggars, the homeless and the dying. I have become adept at handling people and I feel the plight of many. I know about the harsh and ugly side of life. I have been there with the victims and the offenders. I have seen and experienced things in my life that I would never want others to have to experience—from horrific fatalities and injuries to the inhumane treatment of one human being by another.

I also understand what it is like to go without and what it is like to have plenty. I struggled, alongside others, in the early years of married life with a mortgage and the prospect of raising children. I know what it is like to be faced with spiralling interest rates and to sometimes deprive your family and yourself of essentials in order to retain the family home. I have known times in business when money was tight and loans were enormous but I have also known success, and the spoils that success from dedication, long hours and honest labour brings. Throughout all these times as a child, as an adult and as a business proprietor, I have never lost my sense of purpose, of reality, of obligation to those around me, of patience and of strong commitment. I have remained focused on the important aspects of family, of loyalty to both friend and client, the need for hard work and the importance of not losing sight of the objectives. I also know of the good side of life. I am in my 24th year of a vibrant and happy marriage to a beautiful and loving woman. Together we have raised our children into adulthood. I value and subscribe wholeheartedly to the liberal philosophy of the protection of the family unit. Like Senator Nash, I also value the extended family with the importance of the role of grandparents, siblings’ families and beyond. Often great stories, great experiences and great love can come from those who are fortunate enough to have the closeness of extended family relationships.

I respect and am passionate about the law. As a police officer I have applied the law that legislators have enacted. Effective legislation comes from good policy. I am keen to pursue the continuance of good Liberal policy so that this country can continue to move forward with the values and the lifestyle that all Australians deserve. I am a team player. I believe that the team is bigger and more important than the individual. I have seen and experienced the benefits of a team, of the esprit de corps that is generated through people coming together and working towards the same goals. I know the advantage of working as a unit and the achievements that can flow from such a team perspective. I have worked in partnerships and teams that have required loyalty in order to not just achieve but survive. My life has been in the hands of others, and their lives in mine—never more evident than during my time as a detective.

Conversely, my role as a funeral director allowed me to take the emotional lives of others into my care. Funeral directors have a unique role in society, where each of us becomes a part of a family’s life during a very special and very private time. I make mention that a number of my funeral industry colleagues have journeyed here today, and I thank them for taking time out of their busy schedules to be in this house today. Equally, I trust it is not of concern to you, Mr President, or to honourable senators, that this is the largest gathering of embalmers and practising funeral directors ever to witness live the proceedings of the Senate. I also wish to assure all gathered here that no professional interest from the gallery is apparent.

While speaking of occupational paths, I mention in passing that I will one of the few senators—if not the only senator—to have covered, vocationally speaking, both of life’s certainties: previously, death; and now, taxes. I am confident that the diverse backgrounds and experiences contained within the ranks of all new senators will complement the array of prior occupational backgrounds of senators already ensconced in this place.

If one looks at the makeup of the Senate by way of past vocations, then the people of Australia should be satisfied that this body of 76 elected individuals contains enough skill, expertise and life experience to effectively deliberate on all legislation and issues that are placed before it. This current Senate is made up of people that have a wide range of occupational classifications and come from areas such as nursing, practising medicine, farming of all varieties, journalism, policing, lecturing, wholesaling, labouring, skilled trades of all kinds, fishing, horticulture, teaching, accounting, the legal profession and many more.

Importantly, coupled with occupational definition, many have actually owned and operated medium and small sized businesses, giving that added advantage of having more than just a passing knowledge of what issues face the small business owner. Rather many in this place know exactly what the 1.26 million small business owners in this country face on a daily basis. I note the greater diversity of occupational background and small business experience comes from this side of the chamber.

I have just spoken about the makeup of the vocational attributes of this place. Now I want to speak about the political makeup of this chamber. In doing so, it is appropriate to consider the last half-Senate election. Fifteen senators left the Senate on 30 June this year, replaced by 15 senators elected on 9 October last year. This represents the largest change of the Senate since 1950, equating to 19.74—or 20—per cent of the Senate. Much has been said, and said by people with far more knowledge than I, about the contribution of the senators that are no longer in this place. I will not add to that except to publicly acknowledge the longstanding contribution of Senator Brian Harradine, a fellow Tasmanian, and I wish him well in retirement.

As I reflect upon the change to the makeup of the Senate, I note that the media has focused—often negatively—on the configuration of the Senate and the strong position the coalition now has by way of a majority on the floor of this chamber. I want to make three observations about this. Firstly, the makeup of this chamber is determined solely, and without recourse, by the electors of our nation voting in all states and territories. This is not an electoral aberration, this is not an engineered outcome and this is not, in any way, shape or form, a mistake. On 9 October last year, this nation voted and this is the legitimate result.

Secondly, commentators—both from the parliamentary wings of some political parties and from the media—treat the result of the last federal election as though it was unique in our time and something of problem, and as though an entirely new landscape has presented itself in Australian democratic history. This is not true. There are two other jurisdictions in this country that are operating under similar majorities. The Victorian parliament has a majority of government members in the upper house: 23 Labor members occupy seats, with 15 Liberal and four National. Similarly, the single-house system in Queensland, which has less scrutiny than the bicameral houses across this nation, has a majority without upper-house scrutiny or hostility. One could confidently argue that the sky has certainly not fallen in in either of those states.

The third comment that I make in regard to the configuration of the Senate is to do with control. I am on the public record from a very early stage after the October election result objecting to this word, ‘control’. The government does not control the Senate. It never has and it never will. The Senate is comprised of individuals who have an opportunity to exercise their vote as their hearts and minds and the will of the constituency guides them. The only control that is exercised is that of the Australian people at the ballot box. This, however, does not prevent a collective of like-minded senators voting in a similar pattern on legislation presented to this chamber. In fact, the people of Australia, in deciding whom to elect, chose individuals by their alignment to political groups or parties. Our constituents have expectations that we will fight for their causes in the party rooms of our respective organisations and then, after the exhaustion of battle there, vote as a collective. The only way to effectively govern this nation and provide for our states is to have a common, aligned, working majority.

I believe that we and the Australian people need reminding of the difficult nature of our roles in two respects. Each senator in this place wears the burden of having two masters, the first being the constituents of the state or territory from where each senator resides, and secondly the master that goes by the name of national interest or the common good for the people of Australia as a whole. If each senator were to consider only the welfare and benefit of their respective states and territories, then the overall wellbeing of this country would be sadly, and recklessly, abandoned. The ability to place national interest ahead of state interest when a conflict of opinion is apparent is indeed what tests the courage, intelligence and integrity of each and every one of us.

Mr Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, in his 1860 Cooper Union address, captured the essence of what I have just said rather well—not that he heard what I said. Mr Lincoln said:

Neither let us be slandered from our duty by false accusations against us, nor frightened from it by menaces of destruction to the Government nor of dungeons to ourselves. Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

Many members of parliament have taken a keen interest in the health and wellbeing of every person in this nation. I have a strong view that preventative medicine is better than being reactive to problems after they arise. I have been proactive in my community regarding medical research both at a fundraising and an awareness level through to administration. Being a funeral director, whilst also being proactive in medical research, certainly raised some eyebrows. When giving addresses to service clubs and similar groups about medical research, I would often be taken to task by fines masters and the like for trying to reduce funeral industry based clientele. I would graciously accept the humour, but then deliver my serious message.

As a funeral director, I have stood beside the bodies of hundreds of people who have died from what will one day be a preventable disease. Sadly, on many occasions the bodies of those people were younger than me or the same age as my children or were people in their fifties and sixties, all far too young to die. I have also experienced, with the families that I have served, the emotion and heartache that befalls us when someone close to us dies.

Whilst dealing with traumatic and other sudden deaths through accident or injury is devastating to families and funeral directors alike, the death of Australians from cancer and other medical illnesses appears to harbour a cruel aspect because of the thought that it just might have been preventable. So it is my vocational journey that has created a passionate desire to see medical research funding continue to increase. I commend this government on its record so far. Following the Wills review in 1999, this government made a commitment to double the research funding to the National Health and Medical Research Council. This increase has taken place over a six-year period and will reach a peak of $445 million dollars this financial year, up from $176 million in 1999. I am very keen to work towards further support for medical research funding.

On matters concerning health, I place on record my view that further examination of a single national approach to health is warranted. The blame shifting from one agency to another; from one government tier to another misses totally the point of health care. There are people throughout Australia that want service delivery in relation to issues that affect them personally. They do not care who is responsible; they—and rightly so—just want treatment. It is our duty to see that happen.

We need to be delivering the best outcomes in this critical area of public service. A duplicative administration and convoluted funding arrangements complicate and create bureaucratic jungles rather than medical service solutions. If the public interest is best served by a single national health entity then I want to start working towards that. The states will need to agree to this, and I would encourage state governments to explore this option with a view to a better health service for our nation.

I want to turn my attention to the Tasmanian Liberal Senate team. As a group, we regularly caucus and utilise the skills and interest areas of each senator to pursue issues for individual constituents and groups alike. Whilst we do not always agree and whilst we may have healthy debate, the team attitude removes duplication of effort and provides for a higher degree of representation by now having six senators supporting any single issue and by drawing on the expertise and experience of each team member in advancing issues. As the newest member of the team, I place on the public record my respect for this cooperative and unified method. Not only does a single unit of senators auger well for the people of our state and nation, but it is worth noting that we have a highly credentialed team.

Mr President, we are privileged to have you as President and part of our team. On that note, as this is my first speech since your re-election to office, I congratulate you on your re-election. I also note that in our team we have a minister of the Crown in Senator Abetz, a parliamentary secretary in Senator Colbeck and the longest serving senator in this parliament—now father of the Senate—Senator Watson. Together with Senator Barnett and myself, we can truly have direct influence on working for the betterment of our country, state and regions. I am pleased to have joined my colleagues to continue our team approach.

Time does not permit me to indulge in other areas of interest that fall within the purview of the federal government and the federal parliament. I make it known that over my time in this place I will be keen to explore and assist in areas that relate to the environment, our quarantine and federal policing efforts, electoral matters, migration, small business compliance issues, taxation simplification—just to name a few. I will certainly welcome the opportunity to involve myself in these and other areas as time progresses.

I do need to publicly thank some important people in my life. To my wife, Allison, I thank her so much for supporting me not only as a fantastic wife but as a business partner, as my No. 1 constituent and, to my annoyance at times, my best critic. I cannot thank her enough for her support. To my two adult sons, Joshua and James, my thanks to them for not only being good mates and great fun but for being ambassadors for my cause, especially in a university environment where support for a Liberal Senate team was not necessarily the most popular role on campus. I also take this opportunity to publicly express my congratulations to my eldest son, Joshua, on announcing his engagement to his now fiance, Amber, here in this house yesterday. Congratulations to you both.

I owe so much to so many others for contributing over short and long periods throughout my life’s journey, which has led to me standing here today. I do need, and indeed want, to acknowledge some important people. To my parents, Bill and Patricia, who have moulded, nurtured and shaped me, led by example, especially the installation of a strong work ethic in me and the sense of needing to support one’s community; thanks, Mum and Dad.

To my three brothers, Dean, Vincent and Andrew, I thank them for all our adventures together, for the comradeship of brothers and for the continued support and spirit of family. My parents-in-law, John and Anne Vincent, I thank you, as you have also been an integral part of my life. To my extended family, friends and past colleagues, thank you for attending today. I cannot and will not name you, but it is fair to say that virtually all of my best friends, confidants, mates and debating partners are all present today. I thank each of you most sincerely for your encouragement, your support and, most importantly, your honest friendship. I also thank you for giving up your day. With some pride, I acknowledge that each state of Australia is represented in the gallery.

I also thank the members of the Tasmanian division of the Liberal Party of Australia for having the confidence to preselect me and to the voters of Tasmania for placing their trust in the Liberal Senate team and indeed their faith in me. I hope to serve you well. To the gathering of friends and state colleagues in my electorate office at Burnie watching these proceedings on the web broadcast, thank you for your support. Finally, to my three new staff members, Leanne, Michelle and James, all four of us set out on this journey on 1 July. I thank you for your loyalty thus far and look forward to counting each milestone with you.

Prior to concluding, I wish to quote, once again, President Lincoln. This is from March 1832, well before he became President. I thought this statement of Lincoln’s to be poignant for two reasons: firstly, it talks about ambition in a way I subscribe to, particularly in his reference to worthiness; and secondly, like me today with a first speech, this was reportedly—while not his first speech—his first political announcement. I quote:

Every man is said to have his peculiar ambition. Whether it be true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem. How far I shall succeed in gratifying this ambition, is yet to be developed.

Mr President, I am new; I am keen; I am here to serve. I thank the Senate.

Honourable senators—Hear, hear!