Mr GIBBONS (Bendigo) (17:13): on indulgence: how do I follow an act like the delightful Dr Mal Washer? I wish him well.
I am going to start with the thankyous because I do not want to miss out on people who deserve to be thanked. I will start with my campaign team over what has been almost 15 years. I am talking about Leigh Svendson, Sue McKenzie, Marty Stradbrook, Elaine Walsh and Bill Murray. Then, of course, there is my staff. I understand they are all watching this on the Sky channel in the office, probably drinking copious cups of tea and coffee. To Sue McKenzie, Lisa Lane, Marty Stradbrook, Jacinta Allen, Elaine Harrington, Neil Wilson—Neil is, unfortunately, no longer on this earth, but I will never forget the day he came to the office to deliver a phone message and his tie was completely shredded. He had leaned over the shredder to do something, and his tie dangled into it. He had this big, silly grin on his face and a shredded tie. Lorna Erwin, Peter Downes, the late Richard Clarke, Shannon Farley, Cassie Farley, Sandra Chenhall, Natalie Pretlove, Jackie Diamond, Katie Condliffe, Fabian Reed, Marg Dericott, Bill Muray, Jamie Driscoll, Stuart McKenzie and Louise Fisher.
Of course I have to thank my wife, Diane. We have been constant companions since we were both 17 years of age. She has been a tower of strength for me. Our relationship has endured 35 years of the music sector, 35 years involvement in politics—and my support for the Collingwood Football Club. I would be lost without her.
I thought I would start by talking about my first speech in this House. I remember it well because we had a whip at that stage called Leo McLeay, and Leo used to delight in making things very difficult for people, especially if you happened to be from the Left. He did not even give me a day’s notice: he told me on the day that I would be delivering my first speech later that afternoon—to which I said, ‘Thank you very much.’ So I had the speech prepared, and I remember sitting down just prior to the time I was due to get up, looking through the pages and noticing page 2 was missing. So I got up, sprinted out of the chamber, down the corridor, into the lift, up to the second floor, into my office, printed it off again, got all the way back and sat down just prior to getting the call. Of course, when I stood up to start delivering the speech I was puffing, panting and sweating. I could hear voices saying, ‘Look, the poor soul, he’s nervous, he’s very concerned.’ The truth is I was only slightly nervous but I was totally knackered!
On to more serious matters. I joined the Australian Labor Party on 3 September 1976. I remember that precise date because I got married on 4 September 1976. It was Labor’s opposition to the war in Vietnam and particularly the influence of the late Dr Jim Cairns that guided me into 37 years of party membership and resulted in my election to this place in 1998. I am extremely proud of what we have been able to achieve since that date, and when I say ‘we’ I am talking about my office and the people associated with it.
Naturally I would have liked to have served on the front bench, in opposition or in government, administering a portfolio, but that was not to be. I had to defend some very narrow margins in the Bendigo electorate, especially during the early years, and I could not see any point in being away from the electorate to the extent required to manage a portfolio and then losing the seat as a result. Besides, during my first three parliamentary terms, to be available for promotion you had to kiss the backside of some of the sub factional warlords, usually self-appointed, to be guaranteed a spot. I was never prepared to do that.
And as I am the sole member of my own sub faction, it would have been a little difficult for me to perform that task, actually. We changed the method of frontbench appointments in 2008 to allow the leader to select the team. I opposed that then and I still do. Consequently, I did not spend any time waiting, nor did I expect a phone call re promotion from either leader—and, of course, neither of them disappointed me.
But I am more than happy in what we—my office—have achieved. Our office has responded to more than 150,000 inquiries, always in a courteous and professional manner. For the period of 2007 to 2013 under the Labor governments, the Bendigo electorate has received more than $1.26 billion of federal government funding to improve community, education and health facilities, to maintain employment and social cohesion, to improve living standards and to address some of the major challenges facing our community, such as climate change and future communications needs.
I am proud to be a member of a party that has initiated milestone initiatives like: the price on carbon; exceptional management of the impact of the global financial crisis; low unemployment; low inflation and a low interest rate; the AAA credit rating; national education reform; the national disability scheme; the National Broadband Network; the resource rent tax, which is tax on mining company super profits; the Murray-Darling Basin reform; and the apology to the stolen generation. It was very moving when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered that great «speech» and it was a great privilege to be in the chamber then.
There have been a range of local campaigns which I am proud to be associated with. The Calder Highway campaign was a classic. We had a four-year campaign of struggle to get the Howard government to honour its commitment and fund a duplicated highway from Melbourne all the way to Bendigo. That was a major struggle and I am pleased to say it was delivered just prior to the 2007 election. The opposition, the Liberals, took the view then that they had no chance of winning the seat of Bendigo unless that was completed. They completed it, and I still won the seat. I am very proud of that.
There was the big campaign to maintain the Bushmaster contract. You would all be familiar with the Bushmaster, the armoured personnel carrier that is saving lives in Afghanistan as we speak. In 1997 the initial contract was signed with what was then Australian Defence Industries when the ADI Bushmaster protected mobility vehicle was chosen as the preferred option over the ASVS Taipan vehicle to proceed to the next stage. A production contract was signed with ADI for 370 Bushmasters to be delivered by 2002. There was and, believe it or not, there is still considerable opposition from senior Army and defence personnel regarding the suitability of the Bushmaster vehicle, with a clear preference from some for an overseas product. I still cannot believe that that exists today, even after all the success.
In 2001 Peter Reith replaced John Moore as the defence minister and, after receiving a Defence recommendation, announced he intended cancelling the Bushmaster contract.
Labor made the Bushmaster contract and the Calder Highway the main issues in the 2001 federal election campaign. The Howard government won that election, but I was re-elected on that particular platform. In 2002 I took a deputation to the new defence minister, Senator Robert Hill, to argue the case for retaining the contract with what was then still Australian Defence Industries.
On 26 June 2002 Defence Minister Hill announced that the government would honour a revised Bushmaster contract with ADI, with a reduced number of vehicles—I think it was down from 370 to 299. Thales Bendigo have now produced 1,000 Bushmasters. Just last Friday we celebrated the one-thousandth machine, and the former Minister for Defence Materiel, Jason Clare, told a large gathering of Thales employees recently that the ADF estimated that Bushmasters have saved close to 300 lives, mostly Australian, in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am very, very proud of that.
The Australian Department of Defence LAND 121 Phase 4 vehicle replacement program will provide the ADF with up to 1,300 light protected mobility vehicles, or PMV-Ls, and some non-armoured vehicles to replace part of the current Land Rover fleet. Thales, the company that now owns ADI, had designed and built the Hawkei PMV-L to compete for this contract and, again, there was and still is, believe it or not, considerable opposition to Australian design from the Defence department, both military and civilian. On 23 April 2009, I took a briefing from the most senior people in the DMO on the LAND 121 Phase 4 project and the officials told me—and I had my senior staff member, Stuart Mackenzie, with me at the time—that they did not believe Thales was capable of producing a light protected mobility vehicle. So we started an intensive lobbying campaign similar to the Bushmaster campaign of those earlier years.
On 26 May 2010, the Minister for Defence Materiel and Science, Greg Combet, announced funding for three Australian manufactured PMV-L vehicles to compete against the US JLTV. Thales, Force Protection and General Dynamics each received up to $9 million to develop prototypes. Thales’ Hawkei was the only Australian designed and manufactured prototype in the competition. On 24 February 2011, Thales delivered two Hawkei prototypes to Defence for an intensive test and appraisal process. A recommendation to government on the preferred Australian PMV-L to compete with the successful US JLTV was anticipated later that year, with 2013 or early 2014 cited as a possible date for financial decision and a contract negotiation.
On 19 April, 300 people rallied in Bendigo in support of Australian defence manufacturing and Thales vehicle contracts. The Thales Hawkei won the Australian Defence Force ‘Down Select’ process—what we call the preferred tenderer status. This is the vehicle that they said Thales would never build and suddenly it had won the Down Select. It is now the preferred vehicle.
Defence minister, Stephen Smith, announced future prototype development funding for the Hawkei program. Thales has been granted another $38 million for Hawkei prototype development under the Defence Materiel Organisation first pass approval process and this brings the total Commonwealth investment to $47 million.
So I am particularly proud of that. That is a contract worth potentially between $1.3 billion to Bendigo. Final testing and prototype development will continue throughout 2013-14 when contract negotiations should commence. All the hard work has been done and I think that the only risk that could lose a contract worth potentially $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion is the election of a coalition government. Both Tony Abbott and shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey have refused to guarantee that they will support funding for prototype development for the Hawkei, and that is a real shame. But I am confident that Labor will win the election anyway and it will be fine.
One of the other big campaigns I am proud to be associated with was the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation, or DIGO. There was a recommendation from the Defence department to relocate that from Bendigo, where it has been since 1942, up to Canberra with about 130 jobs associated with it. Again we waged a major campaign and a deputation to Defence Minister Robert Hill. Bendigo has a lot to thank Senator Robert Hill for, I must say. He has been very, very supportive in giving us appointments in the first place, listening to the argument and then acting on it, usually in our favour. So I am always indebted to him. He announced that DIGO would stay in Bendigo. They would vacate Fortuna, the old historic mansion, and move to a new building which was yet to be built at a cost of about $11 million, and that has happened.
Another defence-related Bendigo success story is Australian Defence Apparel, ADA. This innovative company manufactures uniforms and personal body armour for defence requirements. One of the things I am very proud about in our defence manufacturing capability in Bendigo is the fact that we only make things that save lives; we do not make things that kill people. All our defence manufacturing is very philosophically pure. We make things like Bushmasters, that have saved 300 lives, and armour protection that saves the lives of people who serve in war zones.
I want to particularly acknowledge the outstanding contribution to Bendigo’s economy through ADA by its founder, Brian Rush, who really needs to be canonised. He took on this company, bought it from Australian Defence Industry and privatised it. It is a privatisation success story that I am almost reluctant to talk about for obvious reasons, but it is a great success story and it is Brian’s stewardship that it has certainly done it.
ADA has always invested its own resources into research and development and is constantly developing new products, like ceramics for lifesaving body armour, and, far from just sitting around waiting for lucrative government contracts, Brian Rush has always had the courage to invest in new materials and new products. And I am sure that under the new CEO David Giles Kaye we will also see ADA continue to provide innovative solutions in armour protection for our service men and women.
I have deliberately spent some time during this speech on Bendigo’s defence and defence industry sector, and for a good reason. It is vital to our economy and jobs. In fact research by the City of Greater Bendigo Council—research that my office, or I, commissioned—showed that the sector is worth a massive $750 million in total output per year to Bendigo’s economy and is responsible for around 830 direct jobs, with a full consumption effect of over 1,600 indirect jobs. Defence and defence manufacturing are vital components of the Bendigo economy.
I am particularly proud of the campaign we waged to make sure that the La Trobe University campus in Bendigo stayed, a major university in Bendigo, and that it was not gutted with all of the resources going to Bundoora—and I know that the member for Scullin and my good friend the member for Batman probably shared that same view. I commissioned four well-known Bendigo identities, Andrew Cairns, Jan Boynton, Ian McBean and my former chief of staff, the late Richard Clarke, to prepare a report on La Trobe University’s future in Bendigo and the impact that it makes in Bendigo’s economy. It is a major powerhouse in Bendigo’s economy.
They produced a great report, and when La Trobe was going through its own processes of what they called ‘vertical integration’, they actually adopted a lot of the recommendations from that report that I had commissioned. So I am particularly proud of that.
I am particularly proud of the campaign to preserve the book-printing industry in Maryborough, and my good mate the member for Hotham, sitting in front of me, would be well aware of that. He has been there and has visited plenty of times. Maryborough is a very small community in my electorate of Bendigo. It is one of the most depressed regions in Bendigo and this had the potential to devastate the biggest employer in that town. I lobbied cabinet ministers and just about everybody who would listen that this was a very, very silly move to make and I am pleased to say that the cabinet finally resolved in my favour—by one vote. But it was enough.
I am indebted to the local Bendigo media because, without their interest and assistance, the campaigns that I have just mentioned would have been much harder, and much, much harder. I am pleased to say that I have had an effective relationship with the Canberra press gallery; I have never annoyed them too much and by and large they have left me alone—and I appreciate that. That system worked very well!
I have been fortunate enough to make some lasting friendships from all sides of this House and from the staff—security staff, attendants and COMCAR drivers. I have enjoyed working with members opposite, and on various committees over the past 15 years, and I refer particularly to the member for Hinkler, the member for Barker and the member for New England, among others. In all seriousness, this parliament, and indeed this nation, is fortunate to have someone of the calibre of Tony Windsor in its ranks. I wish him well for the forthcoming election.
There are two members of the opposition that I regard as close friends. I will not name them—
Honourable members interjecting—Name them! Name them!
Mr GIBBONS: I will not name them because I do not want to embarrass them! But then again, the former member for Corangamite used to do a great job of embarrassing himself. Particularly, I say to all of them and to those who I am referring to, that friends of mine are friends for life.
This 43rd parliament has been particularly difficult and we have all had to make sacrifices. I have had to refrain from enjoying that extra scotch before dinner for fear of knocking myself out and missing a division! But sacrifices had to be made.
Valedictory speeches are a time for reflection, and generally for reflection about the past. I am going to be serious for a minute and now would like to spend a few moments reflecting on our nation’s future, in particular two of the challenges that will face my successor as the member for Bendigo and the 44th parliament as a whole.
The first of these is climate change. Scientists tell us that the actions that the world takes in the next decade will be critical; critical to whether we manage to slow the effects of man-made global warming during the 21st century, or whether we leave our children and grandchildren to contend with potentially catastrophic changes to their way of life.
I am proud of the fact that Labor came into office in 2007 recognising the importance of this challenge, and I am proud that as I leave this House Australia is doing its part by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The carbon-pricing scheme introduced into this parliament has placed Australia among the 35 countries and 13 regions that have implemented emissions trading schemes. Just yesterday, the city of Shenzhen in China launched an ETS that covers more emissions than Australia’s entire carbon market. We have started doing our part, and it would be a tragedy if the anti-science attitude from the vested interests manages to divert us from that course.
The second great challenge for the next and subsequent parliaments is the shift of economic and political power from the Western nations to Asia. As the government’s white paper recognises, the rise of Asia will be a defining feature of the 21st century. Within the life of the next couple of parliaments, Asia will not only be the world’s largest producer of goods and services but will also be the world’s largest consumer of them. It is already the most populous region in the world, and it will soon become home to most of the world’s middle-class—I do not really like to use that term.
And we must not forget that there is more to Asia than India and China. Our nearest neighbour, Indonesia, is the fourth-largest country in the world. Its 17,000 islands command the air and sea approaches to Australia, yet still we know so little about this country that is on our own doorstep and which is already the 15th-largest economy in the world. It is somewhere we fly over on the way to somewhere else, or go to to enjoy the beaches. The changes going on to our north represent terrific opportunities for this country if we have the courage to take them.
But in order to do this, we must make some changes too. We have to be prepared to increase our engagement with the region. If we better understand its people and its cultures, we can be a major beneficiary of Asia’s rising position in the world. Steering the country through these changes will be a major challenge for members of future parliaments. I leave this House optimistic about our nation’s future; optimistic that we will be able to deal with the major challenges and take advantage of the opportunities that we face in the 21st century.
And that is probably an appropriate note on which to conclude my final speech in this place. I thank you all for attending.
The SPEAKER: I would like to congratulate the member for Bendigo on his speech and wish him well in his retirement from this place.