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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 227

Mr RUDD (Griffith) (20:12): I wish to make some remarks to the chamber, Mr Deputy Speaker. There comes a time in our lives as parliamentarians when our families finally say, 'Enough is enough.' My family has reached just such a time. We ask much of our families in this place and, in the case of my family, well above and way beyond the call of duty. The truth of this place is that the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, which regrettably have become part of the stock and trade for so many of us in public life, hit home to our families as well. This applies particularly to the families of our parliamentary leaders. For our family, recent statements since the September election have been particularly hurtful. As parliamentarians we might say that we become inured to all of this, although I doubt it. For our families, however, I believe that it becomes harder, not easier, with the passing of the years and it affects their ability to get on building their own lives and careers as well. My family have given their all for me in public life and for the nation. It is now time that I gave something back to them. This has been the product of much soul searching for us as a family over the last few months. The decision that I have made has not been taken lightly, particularly given the deep attachment that I have for the community that I have proudly represented in this place these last 15 years. But for me, my family is everything and always has been and always will be. That is why I will not be continuing as a member of this parliament beyond this week.

I also believe that it is right and proper to report my decision to the parliament at the earliest opportunity, and that day is today. I have chosen to do so now to create minimal disruptions to the normal proceedings of the House. My predecessors as Prime Minister, Prime Ministers Whitlam, Fraser, Hawke and Keating, reached similar decisions to leave the parliament before the subsequent election, as did would-be Prime Ministers Costello and Downer. Perhaps Prime Minister Howard would have done the same had he retained the seat of Bennelong, although we will never know.

I wish to thank my local community, the good burghers of Griffith, for electing me to this place. They are very good people and they are a great community. I am proud of the new libraries, classrooms and multi-purpose facilities we have built in each and every one of my local primary schools and I am proud of the hundreds of new laptops in high schools, which before had none, or very few. I love the smiles on the kids' faces and on the teachers' faces as I visit them, and schools like them, right across Australia.

I would also like to thank the people of Australia for electing me as their Prime Minister. To have served as Prime Minister of Australia has been a great honour afforded to very few in our country's history.

For the future I wish the Prime Minister and his government well. I do that because I wish Australia well. The prime ministership of this Commonwealth is not easy. It is the hardest job in the land. The expectations of whoever holds the office are infinite, while the resources available are finite. I wish Tony, his wife, Margie, and their family all the best for the rigours of high office that inevitably lie ahead.

This is a good country. Australians are by instinct a very good people. The rest of the world, more often than we perhaps think, looks to us to help provide answers to the challenges facing humankind, and not just to tend to our own. So, too, I would wish my good friends the Treasurer and the foreign minister, wherever she happens to be, all the very best for the complex global challenges that lie ahead, as I do my good friend the member for Wentworth, who remains a particular adornment to the parliament.

To the Australian Labor Party, the party of which I have been a proud member for the past 30 years or more, and a parliamentary member for 15 years, the future of Australian progressive politics lies within your hands. I wish the newly elected leader, Bill Shorten, all the best in the great task that lies ahead. Having served as the Leader of the Opposition myself, I know this is never a position for the faint-hearted. Bill, there are always long, dark nights of the soul. But believe it or not morning does come, often sooner than you think. Bill brings great strengths to the position. I have every confidence he will lead Labor's return to the Treasury benches.

I also wish to thank Albo for his extraordinary service as Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House. Albo is the most formidable parliamentarian in this place, as is recognised on both sides of the chamber. He also has a passionate commitment to the cause of progressive politics. In my long years in this House his loyalty has been beyond reproach. I also thank Chris Bowen for his great contribution to our party and government and his future contribution, as well.

It is a singular honour to serve in the high office of Prime Minister of Australia. I have in the past few days looked at my first speech in this place, back in 1998. You will all be pleased to know that none of us has changed one bit since then! I said back then that I believed politics was about power, and whether that power was for the few or the many. Fifteen years later, that remains my view. I said back then that I believed in the politics of hope, not in the politics of fear. Fifteen years later, that remains my view, because, as Martin Luther King famously remarked, 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.' I also said way back then that I had no interest in being here for the sake of being here, that the only point of being here was to make a difference for the benefit of all. Fifteen years later, that remains my view as well. In fact, I found nothing that I would change from my first speech all those years ago.

I set out to achieve many things as Prime Minister. In some of these I succeeded; in others I did not. Such is the nature of politics. But when the history is one day written, detached from the passions of our time, perhaps it will be remembered that we did navigate Australia through the worst global economic crisis since the Depression without a recession, without the scourge of mass unemployment—a terrible thing when you see it in Europe today—and with our AAA credit ratings intact. It may also be remembered that we helped establish the G20 as the premier institution of global economic governance as well as securing Australian membership of it; that we ratified Kyoto, because we believe in the reality of climate change, and we acted on our commitments to reduce carbon emissions; that we brought into being Australia's first ever national curriculum, our first ever paid parental leave scheme and the biggest age pension increase in our history; and that as a nation we finally delivered an official apology to Aboriginal Australians.

Nothing has brought me greater joy in political life than the smiles I have seen on the faces of our Aboriginal brothers and sisters, young and old, country and city, as a result of the apology. I hope, though, that what we have achieved through some healing of the soul will be the first step. The second, of course, is closing the gap to achieve a healing of broken bodies as well.

It was also my privilege to be asked by my parliamentary colleagues, including Bill and Albo and Chris, to return to the prime ministership earlier this year. This, too, was not a task for the faint-hearted. I was glad that together we were able to, as they say in the classics, save the furniture—and in fact, I think, do considerably better than that. I am glad that all you folk on the frontbench were returned in one piece as well, and that we returned Labor as a fighting force for the next election. More importantly, we have also begun the process of reforming the party through the new democratic processes for electing our leader. This was a great experience for our party. But I also believe it is but the first step. Our party must continue to reform and to be the party of the reforming progressive centre of Australian politics, the party of the future economy of social equity and of environmental sustainability, the party of working people, the party of small business and the party of our local communities, and a fully democratised party where we also see the election of our national conference, our national executive and our Senate candidates through direct democratic election by our party membership and, in time, primaries for our candidates for this House as well, through a shared electoral college of both our party members and our registered supporters. In the meantime, I look forward to a full democratic preselection process for all local party members to elect our next candidate for Griffith.

For the future, my passion remains with Indigenous reconciliation. In the year ahead I plan to establish a National Apology Foundation to keep alive the spirit and substance of the apology that I delivered in this place six years ago. I will also continue to support the great causes of homelessness, organ donation and the future of multicultural Australia, including foreign language education and inter-faith dialogue. As members of this House will know—in fact, members of Senate estimates committees will know even better—I am both passionately Australian and passionately a citizen of the world. I intend to be active in the international community in areas where I can make a genuine contribution to peace and stability, global economic governance and sustainable development, including climate change. In this context I will also focus on China's future role in the region and the world. As Australia is the voice of the West in the East—and in time I hope a voice for the East in the West—I believe there is a useful role for Australians to play as an engaged, intelligent and sympathetic bridge between these two hemispheres, between China and the United States in particular, in the challenging half century that lies ahead.

Deputy Speaker, I wish to thank, through you and the Clerk, all the parliamentary staff for their unfailing professionalism and friendship all these years. It is they who uphold this great institution of the parliament. I wish to thank the Australian Public Service as one of our great national institutions, and its professional commitment to the defence of the continuing national interests of our Commonwealth, irrespective of who happens to be the government of the day.

I wish to also thank my staff, past and present, prime-ministerial, foreign-ministerial and electoral, for their loyalty, hard work and friendship over the years—and, above all, for their over-riding commitment to Australia. I thank, too, the press gallery, who are here in such numbers this evening!

Honourable members interjecting

Mr RUDD: Sorry, they have bundied off! I thank the press gallery for their coverage, both good and bad, and encourage them to continue to apply all necessary programmatic specificity to the task of holding the government of the day to account! To the members of this parliament, friend and foe—and I can confidently say they are spread equally across both sides of the chamber: I thank you for the privilege of working with you. Whatever has been said—and a lot has been said—that was hurtful over the last three years, I have chosen not to respond. I bear no-one in this place any malice. Life is far too short for that. It is time, however, for the baton unequivocally to be passed to others.

To the new members in this place: I wish you well. This parliament is a great institution. As members you will choose what type of parliamentarian you wish to become. It is not preordained: you make the decisions, whether you become positive or negative, knowledgeable or otherwise, and you shape your own future here. But, whatever you choose, I will just say this: be gentle with each other.

To my life partner, Therese, for enduring 32 years of marriage, as of tomorrow—which I think stands close to the established miracles of the church—to my daughter, Jess, her husband, Albert, and our beautiful grand-daughter, Josephine; to our son Nick and his wife, Zara; and to our youngest son, Marcus: you mean everything to me.

In the days ahead Therese and I will be spending some time together overseas, to plan the next phase of our lives. So I would ask our good friends in the Fourth Estate to give us a little privacy when I cease being a public figure. And I am not planning on any interviews anytime soon—everyone on this side of the House can rest assured!

Australia truly is a remarkable country. It is a land of remarkable opportunity. To think that the son of a dairy farmer, whose family didn't really have much money, could secure a place at university through the Whitlam reforms, and upon graduation become a diplomat and then serve as chief of staff to a Premier, be elected to the parliament to represent the great Australian Labor Party and ultimately to be elected as leader of the party and then as Prime Minister, says everything about how extraordinary this country is. For these remarkable opportunities I will always be grateful. Thank you, Australia.

So, Madam Speaker—thank you for your presence—and friends one and all in this place: having said all of that, on this final occasion in the parliament, and as is now officially recorded in the classics for occasions such as this, it really is time for me to zip.