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Wednesday, 16 September 2009
Page: 9815


Mr COSTELLO (5:58 PM) —Mr Speaker, on indulgence: I will not detain the House too much longer, but I do just want to fill out a little of the picture, if I may. When Brendan first came into the House I was the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. I cannot explain to colleagues what a shock it was when Brendan went up to Bradfield and sought the Liberal Party nomination. It was not his earring; it was not his hairstyle; it was the fact that Brendan had come like a whirlwind and was about to take by storm the safest bastion of Liberalism on the North Shore of Sydney—which had been lined up by candidates over previous decades, much as is occurring now—without a great background in the party and with his previous position as President of the AMA.

Many people will think that the Liberal Party would actually respect the presidency of the AMA. We really just considered it another trade union, Brendan—its members were maybe a little more educated than your ordinary unionists but it was certainly no less dedicated to its members’ interests. We dealt with many of the officials of the AMA over the years, including Bruce Shepherd, who had been one of your distinguished predecessors. The fact that Bruce was behind your bid did not help it at that stage! Bruce had actually tried to recruit me to run for the Joh for PM campaign in 1987, I think it was—but that it is a story for another day.

Brendan took the electorate of Bradfield by storm. When he came down here, I have to say that it was a real breath of fresh air. He immediately made his presence felt. There were many people who thought Brendan Nelson ought to go straight onto the frontbench. He had had a distinguished career, he had been President of the AMA, he had a following and he had come in as a high-profile candidate. We were going into government, and I think those years that Brendan sat on the backbench were probably a tough period for him. I can remember having discussions with him during that period as to whether his time would ever come. None of us ever knows how long we will be in government. We think that if we do not get into government in 1996 will there be a 1998. There nearly was not for us. And if one did not get into government in 1998, would there be a 2001? Brendan, I must say, served a tough apprenticeship in this House and did it with great distinction.

Brendan went on to serve in education, again with great distinction. I think the thing that we learnt about Brendan when he was the Minister for Education, Science and Training was not only that he was good at the nuts and bolts, at the spending. As somebody who ran 12 expenditure review committees, I never saw somebody come into an expenditure review committee who was more on top of his portfolio than Brendan Nelson was. There were people here who saw him recount statistics at the dispatch box. For a while, he was given the moniker ‘Rain Man’, after Dustin Hoffman in that famous movie. Let me tell you that he did not practise them for question time; he actually knew them. One of the most fatal questions one could ever ask Brendan in an ERC was how much money was allocated in subprogram 4(b)(vi) last year as compared with this year and what increase should occur. Twenty minutes later, after Brendan had given you every statistic of every subprogram, you realised that there was no-one on top of detail more than Brendan was.

I think the thing that impressed us in education was that Brendan has always believed in values. It need not have been thus. But somewhere along the line, whether it was through the education of the Jesuits or through the school of hard knocks, Brendan developed very deep values in his life. Patriotism is one of them. There were some people who thought that maybe flags in schools was a little overdone, but patriotism was a very deeply and genuinely held value that Brendan had. It was not something that he put on in this House because he thought it would be politically popular. Education, which had obviously made so much difference in his own life, was something that he very deeply and passionately held.

His respect for the defence forces was something that was deeply and passionately held. Sometimes there is a suspicion that a politician who talks about the defence forces and its values is doing it for political gain. I must say that on occasions it is done here for political gain. We all know it. Brendan was not one of those people. He felt it genuinely and passionately. For a party that originally found Brendan a breath of fresh air—he was not your standard Liberal—he won us over during that period.

The other thing I would like to say about Brendan, and I do not know whether he learnt it as a doctor but he had the greatest bedside manner of any MP in this House. I think I only got sick once when I was a minister, but when you got sick you did not want Brendan to know because he would be at your bedside prescribing treatment or ringing you up. I would like to tell those six ladies in Bradfield he was at my bedside, but it was not what they thought!

There are people in the coalition who suffered the loss of loved ones, and Brendan would sometimes visit them in hospital on their deathbeds. Again, he was genuinely concerned about them. The bedside manner that Brendan had was second to none, and it came from a genuine and deep commitment to people. I think that is what gave him the respect of his colleagues in this place. It is a great honour, a huge honour, to be elected leader of your party. To win a ballot in contested circumstances was for Brendan a great honour. It was probably for Brendan the year from hell. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death on so many occasions, but I never saw him flinch. I thought some of the press coverage that was given to Brendan in that year was as bad as I had ever seen. I do not think Brendan was ever given a fair go in that year, and I am a connoisseur of bad press coverage. I have had my share, believe me, and so I can speak with some authority that through the course of that year Brendan had as bad as anybody should ever have. Yet, Brendan, you had great dignity and courage. You knew what we all know: there is no point complaining about press coverage, because they only redouble their efforts, which is why we love them so much. Gillian, of course, walked through the valley of the shadow of death with Brendan, and I know the stress and the strain that it was for her. I pay tribute to her for the year as well. It will not go down as the best year of your life, I am sure, but I think Brendan drew a lot of admiration and a lot of thanks.

I too want to echo what the Prime Minister has said. Sometimes this House is a great place. It is not always as some of you new members have seen it in recent times. It is a great place. On those occasions when people stand and make speeches and talk from their hearts you can see the House of Representatives is really working as it should and gives them some latitude. Brendan had some policy advice for us tonight. Isn’t it nice to actually hear policy advice which is not turned into split or policy advice which is not turned into differences—policy advice which is genuinely expressed, deeply felt and may actually have some wisdom for all of us in the conduct of how we should go about our deliberations?

Brendan, you have elevated the House with a wonderful farewell speech but more than that you elevated our party and, I believe, the parliament by the contribution that you made and you have elevated public life in this country with what you have done. For a man who believes deeply in all of those values, values that you hold dear, we want to say that we respect you and we respect them. On behalf of the people of Australia, thank you for everything that you have done.


The SPEAKER —Order! I thank the House for their good humour, civility and respect and, despite his admission about the cardboard cut-out, it was exactly what the member for Bradfield deserved.

Debate interrupted.