I would like to see Palestine recognised. It has been far too long that we have allowed that dreadful situation to exist. I have visited Gaza. I have seen the blockade. I have seen the appalling conditions that people are living in there, and it makes me really sad that that has been allowed to continue.
Ms HALL (Shortland—Opposition Whip) (17:12): As you rightly say, this will be the last speech I make in this parliament. I will start by saying that it has been an absolute privilege and honour to represent the people of Shortland for almost 18 years and to contribute to the national political agenda. It has been an absolute privilege to be part of the Labor caucus and to have my colleagues here with me in the chamber and to have my three colleagues from the Hunter here and to have Pat Conroy, who will be the next member for Shortland, here—and I will talk more about that later in my contribution to this debate.
Mr Fitzgibbon: They are big shoes to fill.
Ms HALL: They are different shoes. That is what we tell everybody: different shoes. I thank the people of Shortland for the trust they have placed in me and for their friendship, and I thank everybody in this parliament on both sides for their friendship over the time that I have been here.
I joined the Labor Party back in 1975 when Gough Whitlam was sacked. The first time I voted, I voted for Labor and I felt that my vote had absolutely been ignored. I felt that it was wrong that a Governor-General could decide who the Parliament of Australia would be. I thought, ‘Well, do you sit there and complain about it or do you do something?’ and I joined the Labor Party, and I know colleagues on this side of the House have joined the Labor Party and been inspired by Gough Whitlam over the years.
I am one of the few fortunate people who have represented the area at the local, state and federal level. I was a councillor on Lake Macquarie council, and I think that gave me the skills that you need to interact with people. I know that Joel, the member for Hunter, was also a councillor, and it really gives you that understanding of grassroots politics, the things that impact on people’s lives. The member for Newcastle was also a councillor on Newcastle council—and, yes, the member for McMahon. We have a lot of former councillors on this side.
Ms Rowland: And me.
Ms Vamvakinou: And me. I was a councillor too.
Ms HALL: Goodness. Okay, everybody on this side of the House was a councillor! I will leave it at that. No—a large majority of us were councillors, and we learnt the skills and we learnt to understand the things that impact on people’s lives at that very grassroots level, and we took that very grassroots level to the national agenda. I spent a little bit of time in the state parliament, but I would have to say that this is absolutely the ultimate place in which you can make a contribution to the political agenda.
When I was elected to Swansea, I was actually the first woman from the Hunter to be elected to a lower house seat in either the state or federal parliaments. But the really good news is that 70 per cent of all elected representatives in the Hunter are now women. That is phenomenal—really phenomenal. It shows that Labor has a real commitment to seeing women in this parliament and women in every parliament in the country. I can see Joel sitting down the front there, endorsing my comments!
Mr Fitzgibbon: I’m partly taking credit!
Ms HALL: And taking credit! Yes, our candidate in Paterson, Meryl Swanson, is an absolutely outstanding woman and will make enormous contributions in this parliament.
I was the 949th member to be elected to this federal parliament. That shows just how few people have actually had the honour and the privilege of serving in this House. I made my first speech on 11 November 1998—and 11 November is a special date for all of us. I see the Deputy Leader of the Opposition; she also made her first speech on that day. We were elected together, back in 1998. I am only the third member for the division of Shortland, which was proclaimed in 1949. And I believe I have the fourth member for Shortland sitting right next to me now! I am really proud of the fact that we will have someone of Pat Conroy’s quality taking over from me.
To be elected to this parliament is a privilege, a privilege that few people are afforded, and I have always been mindful of that great honour. I believe that all members elected to this place enter politics because they want to make a difference. It is just that, on different sides of the House, we have a different idea of what makes a difference. We have a different vision, different beliefs and different philosophies, and we all strive to see that our vision becomes the reality. And, without a doubt, I believe the Labor vision is the vision that should be the reality in Australia and the one that benefits Australian people. I have always been motivated by the need to make a difference and to see that the values of social justice, equity and egalitarianism are embraced in Australia. As a federal member of parliament it is a unique opportunity to actually do this.
In my first speech, I emphasised that good government is inclusive. It ensures that all people share the wealth of our great nation, and not just a few. It ensures that we have a society in which everyone is valued. It does not govern by fear or by marginalising one section of our society whilst advantaging another. A good government governs for all and delivers fairness, equity and social justice, not division, scaremongering and fear. I have to say that I have sat in this House on many occasions and felt that it was the latter that was being delivered to the Australian people. We as members of parliament should be showing leadership. We should be giving people confidence. We should not be scaring them. We should not be frightening them. We should not be trying to get elected by appealing to the lowest common denominator—by creating fear.
In my first speech I touched on Belmont Medicare office. One of the things I came to this parliament saying was, ‘Labor will reopen Belmont Medicare office.’ And do you know what? We delivered. We reopened Belmont Medicare office. The Howard government had closed it—yes, shame!—but there is worse to come. The Turnbull government closed it recently.
Opposition members interjecting—
Ms HALL: Yes, they closed it. Not only did they close it, but they decided that it was not really a closure; they were going to co-locate it to Charlestown. They had previously co-located the Charlestown Medicare office to the NDIA office—guess where? Charlestown. And now they were co-locating Belmont, which is 12 kays away from Charlestown—
An opposition member: Down the road!
Ms HALL: yes, just a short walk for those pensioners who live at Belmont, Swansea and Gwandalan! It is just a short walk for them! And they were co-locating it 150 metres away from the existing Medicare office in the NDIA, so it was going to be co-located with Centrelink 150 metres away from the existing Medicare office. Poor old Belmont. They have no Medicare office, but Charlestown are lucky; they have two.
But the story does not finish there. You would think that maybe this was a cost-saving exercise. You would, wouldn’t you—a cost-saving exercise? Well, guess what. I believe it costs in the vicinity of $100,000 to break the lease and to have the fit-out removed. Is that an example of good government?
Opposition members: No.
Ms HALL: No, I do not think so. The member for Swan is a friend of mine in this place, and I know that he has a Belmont Medicare office. It was opened at the same time as my Belmont Medicare office, but I suspect his is still open, whilst mine is now co-located 150 metres from another one. Shame!
The other local initiative that I mentioned in that first speech was the Fernleigh Track. We lobbied the Howard government time and time again to have the Fernleigh Track built. They ignored us. They were not interested. Maybe it was because it was a Labor electorate. I decided that I was not going to be put off by this. When we were elected in 2007, not only did we build the link between Whitebridge and Redhead but we built the link between Redhead and Belmont, and now we have this fantastic cycle-walkway that goes all the way from Belmont into Newcastle along the old rail line.
It really shows that, for the people of Shortland, you need a Labor government to ensure that you get the basics like a Medicare office. By the way, people who were travelling to Belmont Medicare office are now finding it absolutely impossible to contact Medicare on the hotline.
My proudest moment in this parliament was when Kevin Rudd delivered the apology to the stolen generations. It was long overdue. I see Jenny Macklin sitting down the front, and I know that she was very involved in that as well. It was a day where the whole of parliament came together. These galleries were absolutely filled. To see Indigenous people throughout Australia standing up and cheering and crying was just unbelievable—unbelievable—and I felt so proud to be an Australian, so proud to be a member of this parliament. It was long overdue. It was like a veil had been lifted from our society while positioning Australia to become a better, more inclusive country.
On Sorry Day in 2000, I—and, I am sure, many members on this side of the House—walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was really one of the most fantastic experiences I have had. As we got to the other end there were three young girls from Taree who were hopping on the train to go back over. They said, ‘We’ve walked across three times already and we’re going to do it again!’ It meant so much to them that 250,000 Australians had turned out to walk across the bridge that day.
That was followed up by the apology, which I would have liked to see happen a lot sooner than it did. It happened, but we still have work to do with closing the gap. The Closing the gap reports have shown that there has been some progress made but not enough. There is still so much work to be done there. Aboriginal Australians get sicker and they die earlier. They are overrepresented in our prisons. That is something we cannot be proud of as Australians and something we need to address. Of course, our next challenge in that area is constitutional recognition. Constitutional recognition must be something that really delivers. We need to make sure it is not something that just makes people feel good. It has to be meaningful. That will be a challenge for those of you who are left behind, and I know each and every one of you is definitely up to it.
I have always been a politician driven by passion and belief. I have had the philosophy: ‘Do what you believe in and believe in what you do.’ That has driven me all the way along. One issue that I do not believe has been addressed is asylum seekers. I think history will judge us very poorly when it comes to the way this parliament has treated asylum seekers. We cannot leave people on Manus Island and Nauru forever. There has to be some light at the end of the tunnel. We need to make sure that we are seen as a compassionate nation, a nation that actually does something and does not use asylum seekers and refugees as election fodder. There is a real challenge for members of this parliament to show that we can right this atrocity. It is not good enough and we need to deal with it.
Another issue I have always been passionate about is live exports. I know my colleague Joel Fitzgibbon has been working very hard on this. Mahatma Gandhi said that the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way it treats animals. I have to say that animals leaving these shores as live exports have been treated appallingly. I know Joel has been working on this and is very keen to see the appointment of an independent inspector-general of animal welfare. Labor has a good policy in this area. Like the asylum seeker issue, live exports are an issue out there that needs to be addressed.
I would also like—Joel, while I am talking about your area: another little job for you—to talk about the export of greyhounds.
Mr Fitzgibbon: We’re onto that too.
Ms HALL: There we go: we are onto that too. Australian greyhounds, in particular those being sent to Macao, are basically sent over there to be mistreated. They are not even euthanased in a humane way. There is no record of the greyhounds that leave this country. I think that as a parliament we need to address that.
Mr Fitzgibbon interjecting—
Ms HALL: ‘A passport system’, Joel says. I will be watching. I will not be here but I will be watching—and you know I tweet!
The next issue is health. A passion of mine in this parliament has been health, and it is great to see Steve Irons here because we have both been involved in the health committee over a very long period of time and we have co-chaired a lot of parliamentary friendship groups, such as Parliamentary Friends of Seniors and Ageing and Parliamentary Friends of Rare Diseases, and I know that he is just as passionate about health as I am. I believe that the government is really letting people down. Thank you for your work on the health committee and thank you for working with me, Steve. But I need to make some pretty strong comments about government action in the area of health.
Access to health should be based on a person’s need. It should not be based on whether or not a person can afford it. We cannot afford to have a health system here in Australia like the health system that exists in the US. I feel like I have made this speech before, talking about this! And I have made many speeches on health! But going back to the Howard government: under the Howard government, bulk-billing rates fell to 60 per cent, and they came up to 82 per cent when Labor was in government. Now they are on the decline again; we are transferring the cost—we are putting in place a GP rebate, but we are getting the GPs to collect it—and putting in place extra charges and costs for all people who go and see doctors.
We have Catherine King, who is a fantastic shadow health minister. I know she is across it. And the only way Australians can stop these health changes coming into play is by voting Labor.
On education: education is fundamental to everything. If you do not have access to a good education, you do not have access to a quality of life that those of us who are afforded a good education have. To have a system where some people are denied that access to the highest quality of education is unacceptable. Gonski needs to be fully funded. It needs to be put in place to help the most disadvantaged students in schools in Australia. So, once again, it is another job—and we have got Amanda here, who I know is well and truly up to the task.
As to the NBN—well! Pat will be taking up the fight on the NBN. And the rollout in our area has been abysmal. In my office, in the first week that the NBN was rolled out we had 200 people who lodged complaints because they had lost their phone line, they had lost their computer—and on and on it went. Some two months later, they were still without a phone or without a computer. So I am very confident that Pat will take up that issue.
On climate change: I think climate change might be a dirty word at the moment—is it? Does it exist or does it not exist? On this side of the House, we are committed—absolutely committed—to turning it around. The challenge is for those on the other side to match our commitment, because it is of vital importance to not just Australia but the whole of the world. I was in the Pacific recently at the Pacific women’s forum. At that forum, the women voted to have climate change as the agenda item for next year’s Pacific women’s forum. So that is putting it on the agenda and saying how important it is.
As to domestic violence: how can we address domestic violence when funding has been cut? It is so important. You cannot have a situation where two women in Australia are being killed every day. Once again, I know that we on this side are committed to seeing that that is well and truly addressed.
One of my favourites has always been a republic and that is something I am going to work on once I leave this place. Australia needs to be a republic. We need to have our own Australian head of state.
Mr Fitzgibbon: You should be our first President!
Ms HALL: No, I do not think I am presidential material, Joel! Remember, I have that opinion that I always have to express.
I would like to see Palestine recognised. It has been far too long that we have allowed that dreadful situation to exist. I have visited Gaza. I have seen the blockade. I have seen the appalling conditions that people are living in there, and it makes me really sad that that has been allowed to continue.
That now brings me to unions, penalty rates, wages and an area that is a real difference between us and the other side. When I came into this place we had the Patrick’s dispute, and I mentioned the MUA. Now we have Work Choices on water. I know that Anthony Albanese, sitting down the front, is really taking it up to the government, because it is not right that Australian seafarers should be losing their jobs so foreign seafarers can be employed on ships working in Australian waters. We should be about Australian jobs in this place. We should be about ensuring workers get a fair wage.
The other union that I mentioned at the time was the CFMEU. This parliament is about to be dissolved because of the trade union royal commission. The CFMEU figured very strongly in that. There are two arms of that union that I have worked closely with over the years. From my previous life as a rehab counsellor, I know how important workplace safety is. Without the work of the CFMEU going into those workplaces and looking at the work safety that takes place on those business sites, there would be far more people losing their lives. I know that that union supports the families of those who lose their lives. So they get in there, give those families money and support them over a long period of time.
It is really important that we have a balance between unions and employers. We need to have unions to make sure that employers really do the right thing on their work sites. I am sorry for those opposite—I know that what I am saying does not necessarily fit with what they believe, but it is something that I am quite passionate about. Of course, CFMEU mining have been fantastic supporters over the years and have done so much in one of the most dangerous industries. Both building and mining are two of the most dangerous industries, with the highest rates of fatalities and injuries in Australia. I recognise the good work that they do and give them my full support.
Now I come to the hard part. I would like to firstly thank the Labor Party members who pre-selected me to represent them in 1998 and who have continued to support me. Pat has some tissues down there that he is supposed to shake at this particular time! They have always been my eyes, my ears and my heart when I am away from the electorate. I have wonderful branch members that go out there and do what they do because they believe in Labor. They believe in what we do here. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to those wonderful branch members. I thank them from the bottom of my heart. They have been wonderful.
Next, I would like to thank the wonderful people of Shortland. You have been my inspiration. My motivation has been to make your lives better and have your voices heard in Canberra. You will always be in my heart. Thank you for the trust that you have placed in me. I have had the privilege to share your lives, to offer assistance to you, to accept offers of assistance from you, and to build friendships and relationships that will last well past my time in this parliament.
I would also like to thank the wonderful community groups and volunteers in Shortland. I have worked with schools, sporting groups, RSLs, Meals on Wheels, pensioners, seniors groups, Men’s Sheds, CWAs, environmental groups, caring groups and so many others. You have always made me feel welcome, and I have always felt like I am a part of who you are.
I now turn to my incredible staff. As we all know, we are nothing without our staff. First, there is Kathy. Kathy worked with me when I was the state member for Swansea and she has worked with me for basically all the time that I have been the federal member for Shortland. She is one of the most incredibly loyal and strong people you will ever meet. She has nearly finished studying to become a social worker and she is just an incredible person who will always be my friend. Next, there is Chris. Chris bosses me, tells me what to do, tells me where to go, tells me how I should do it and tries to organise me. He is the extreme boss. I think we all need a Chris to tell us where to go and how to do it! Vicki is the one I probably get the most thank you calls in my office about. She sends out the birthday letters to people and the messages of congratulation. She handles all the requests for Order of Australia awards. She has been with me practically all the time. She is family. Next is Lisa. She is a media person extraordinaire. She too has found herself another job. She is going to be working with Urban Growth at their Parramatta office. She is a phenomenal media person and a person of great calibre. Urban Growth is very lucky to have Lisa.
Alex is sitting up in the gallery. He works part time. He is a uni student studying law. He is going to be a fantastic Labor Party member. He has a really big future in front of him. And then there is Mark. I know that people here know Mark; we had a very close relationship with Nola’s office. Mark cannot be with me here today. His wife is very ill. People on this side absolutely adore Mark. He will always be very special and he has made enormous contributions.
Melanie would have been here today but she is attending a funeral. Last Tuesday we had a sporting champions presentation in the office. While we were conducting this presentation—and there were a lot of people who received awards from the Novocastrian Swimming Club—young Jade Frith was hit by a car when crossing the road, and she lost her life. The funeral was held at three o’clock today. I would like to see traffic lights installed in that area to make it safe. It is right near Warners Bay High School. Tracey Blair is up in the gallery. Tracey comes into the office on Thursdays and Fridays. She is a volunteer extraordinaire and she makes our office fantastic. Thank you, Tracey, and thank you, Lorraine, for bringing Tracey here today. We also have Krystle Brown, who also comes in on a Friday and does some volunteer work.
Alex Craig is sitting up there. Alex and I had a photo taken—she is looking all embarrassed, but I love embarrassing people—when she came down here in year 6. Now she works for Michelle Rowland, and I am sure that Michelle would say what a fantastic staff member she is. She is talented and—the icing on the cake—the ACT Young Environmentalist of the Year. Congratulations! You can see that I have been very, very lucky to have some wonderful people around me.
There is one more—I haven’t forgotten—Nelson. Everybody knows Nelson. Nelson was working in the whips office. He made sure everybody got there on time. Thank you for coming along today, Nelson.
I also have to acknowledge Chad Griffiths, who is a councillor on Lake Macquarie council—he has done so much work for me as campaign director over the years—and John Jenkins, who has been the president of the Federal Electorate Council.
The Thursday Club: every Thursday I have a group of guys come along—Adrian Vaughan, Jim Bridge, Jim Anning, Paul Daly, John Goverd, Kevin McFadden, Tony Dybell and Des McMeekan—to put together all the books that I hand out. They sit in a back room and they argue with each other and they have very, very lively discussions, just like my granddaughter Ella is—she is crying up there in the public gallery. Sorry, Ella, I didn’t mean to bore you! The Thursday Club guys always leave a seat at the table for Wal Drane, who was a foundation member of the Thursday Club. Wal died a few years ago. I made the mistake one Thursday of walking into the room and sitting in Wal’s chair. I was told very, very quickly to get up and go!
I have to acknowledge the fantastic support I have received from Anna George—everybody on this side of the House knows how wonderful Anna is—and Debra Biggs. Sitting up in the gallery is Roger Price. Roger and I were whips together. We were quite a team, Roger, me and Chris Hayes, who is now the chief whip. We were a pretty mean team. I have to acknowledge both Roger and Chris. Thank you, Roger, for coming down today. It is wonderful.
Mr Husic: That’ll learn ya!
Ms HALL: That is what he always says—that’ll learn ya. I’m really making the most of this last speech, aren’t I? Sorry!
That now brings me to my wonderful family. When I was elected to this parliament my daughter Shayne, who has disappeared out of here with her daughter, and my son Chris were at university and none of my children were married. If you look up into the gallery, you can see there are lots of little people. They have been born while I have been down here. I have been really lucky when I have come down here, because my daughter and her husband, Cris, live here, and I have been able to spend time with them.
Lindsay, my husband, is sitting there thinking that I am going to tell the story of one election day. I am not going to tell you that the one person on this particular election day I got a letter of complaint about happened to be a person who had grey hair, who was handing out cards at a particular school that Lindsay was at at that particular time. I had to write this very apologetic letter saying ‘I can’t imagine who it could have been.’ But I am not going to tell anyone that. It is a story for another time. Lindsay has been fantastic. He has always been there to support me. He is a doorknocker extraordinaire, Pat Conroy. You are going to use him, I am sure. He loves doorknocking. I am not going to tell you the doorknocking story. I will tell you that later.
An opposition member interjecting—
Ms HALL: No, not now. Maybe that is why he likes doorknocking! Peter, my eldest son, doesn’t come to parliament very much, but he is always telling me what we should do. If we need some advice, we should go and talk to Peter, because he has very strong opinions. He is quite critical at times, I must say, but he always votes Labor—and he has the best position for a sign in the electorate. So, thank you, Peter, and thank you so much for coming down today. He now has three daughters. Selina, who speaks three languages, or maybe even four. She speaks English, Cantonese, her grandmother’s dialect—and she speaks Mandarin as well. One of my other grandchildren, Jessica, who I will get to in a moment, was telling me how Selina was giving them lessons in Cantonese. That is pretty special. Selina’s sisters, Meien and Maicy, are not here.
Chris has Sam and Jessica. Where is Sam? Sam wanted me to give a speech like you, Chris Bowen. He thought that you made a fantastic contribution today. He told me to go down there and be strong and give a Chris Bowen speech. He is very, very interested in politics. He tells me that he knows more about politics than anyone in his school, including his teachers. My beautiful Jessica gave me one of the most interesting campaigns I ever had. At that particular time she had ended up in hospital with a multiresistant staph infection. She nearly lost her life. I did most of my campaigning in that election around John Hunter Hospital. She is a very special girl, very bright—and I call her ‘my treasure’. Next there is Chris. Chris has always been there. He is the rock in the family.
Then there is Shayne and Cris—Shayne has disappeared yet again. Cris is her husband. He is sitting up there with Asher. Asher is a little boy who always likes to do everything the right way. I forgot you, Jonny. Jonny, you are very special too. Hi, Jonny! Next I have Hallie—hello, Hal! Hallie is Miss Personality. Asher always tells us how we should do things. He always used to run and tell tales on Lindsay because he used to say ‘bloody’—is that unparliamentary? It is not, is it? Not now! He would tell his mother that Poppy used bad language. Finally there is Ella, who has taken Shayne out of here.
I cannot, of course, forget my sister Robyn. Robyn is here today. She has come all the way from Nambucca Heads. She is my only sibling and very important to me. At my first speech my mother was here, but, unfortunately, she is no longer here. Robyn embodies my mother—so, thank you, Robyn.
Finally—nearly ‘finally’, anyhow—thank you to all the staff in Parliament House who make it possible for us to do our job: the attendants, who look after all of us so well, the clerks, the sergeant’s office, the Comcar drivers, the cleaners, the staff in the Table Office, the catering staff, and every other person that makes this place very special. I also thank the committee secretariats—the staff who work on the committees.
Now it is time for me to sit down. But before I do I want to pledge my 100 per cent support to having a Shorten Labor government elected. The Labor team has the policies that will make Australia great—inclusive policies that provide opportunities for all Australians. Bill Shorten will be a fantastic Prime Minister. Now, I did not vote for Bill. I voted for my friend, Albo—the person who has given me so much support throughout my political career. Whenever I needed support or whenever I had a problem, I could always go to Albo. Albo is absolutely fantastic. Thank you, Albo, for everything that you have done over the years. I have really appreciated it.
Finally—and these are my final words—I have to say something about Pat Conroy.
Mr Conroy: Don’t!
Ms HALL: No, I will. You can’t keep me quiet. This is the last time. Pat will be the next member for Shortland, and he will continue to make an enormous contribution in this parliament. Anyone who has seen him operate here will know that he is a quality member of parliament. He is a quality politician; a quality parliamentarian. He will bring so much to Australia. The people of Shortland are very lucky that Pat will be their next member. I feel confident in being able to stand down and not re-contest the next election when there is Pat Conroy to follow on. Thank you, Pat. You are so special. He is a person with the strongest possible Labor values. I know he will deliver to all the people in Shortland and to Australia.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. It has been an incredible experience. I will finish where I started. As I was saying, what an honour it has been to serve the people of Shortland. Thank you very much.