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Philip Ruddock (Lib-Berowra) – Valedictory Speech

Philip Ruddock has given his valedictory speech to the House of Representatives, ending a parliamentary career of 42 years and 7 months.

Philip Ruddock delivers his valedictory speech

Ruddock, the Liberal member for Berowra, in New South Wales, since 1993, was first elected as the member for Parramatta at a by-election on September 22, 1973. He was the member for Dundas from 1977 until 1993. After his first election win, he has been elected to 16 parliamentary terms.

Ruddock was Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in the Howard government from 1996 until 2003. He was Attorney-General from 2003 until the Howard government lost office in 2007.

He has been Father of the House of Representatives and Father of the Parliament since 1998.

  • Listen to Ruddock’s valedictory speech (68m)
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Hansard transcript of Philip Ruddock’s valedictory speech to the House of Representatives.

Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (15:12): On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, I present the following reports: the annual report 2013-14 and the Human rights scrutiny report: Thirty-eighth report of the 44th Parliament.

Reports made parliamentary papers in accordance with standing order 39(e).

Mr RUDDOCK: by leave—Before I proceed to my other statement, let me say that it is a pleasure to be able to speak to the tabling of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ 38th report to this parliament.

The committee’s report examines compatibility of bills and legislative instruments with Australia’s human rights obligations. This report considers bills introduced into the parliament from 18 to 19 April 2016 and legislative instruments received from 18 March to 14 April 2016. The report also includes the committee’s consideration of three responses to matters raised in previous reports.

One new bill is assessed as not raising human rights concerns and the committee will seek further response from the legislative proponent in relation to one bill. The committee has also concluded its examination of one bill and two regulations.

This report includes consideration of the Road Safety Remuneration Repeal Bill 2016. This bill sought to repeal the Road Safety Remuneration Act 2012 in order to abolish the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal and all orders made by it. By abolishing the tribunal and repealing its orders, the bill engages and limits the right to just and favourable conditions of work by removing the minimum protections provided by the tribunal and its orders. The statement of compatibility acknowledges that the bill may limit the right to just and favourable conditions of work and states that the bill was necessary to prevent any unnecessary and irreversible negative impact on the road transport industry caused by the tribunal and its orders.

The committee considered that removing a negative economic impact on owner-drivers and small transport operators may be a legitimate objective for the purposes of international human rights law. However, the committee seeks additional information as to the nature and extent of the negative impact and, accordingly, will write to the minister seeking that information.

This report also concludes the committee’s consideration of the Building Code (Fitness for Work/Alcohol and Other Drugs in the Workplace) Amendment Instrument 2015. The instrument requires building contractors on certain building projects to which the Commonwealth is making a significant contribution to have a policy to manage alcohol and drugs in their workplace. The committee recognises the importance of ensuring that building and construction workplaces are drug and alcohol free and that random drug and alcohol testing is an important determinant. The committee, however, has sought more information as to the safeguards that exist, as part of the alcohol and drug testing regime, to protect the right to privacy. The minister’s response did not provide information on this point.

The committee notes that the Australian Border Force (Alcohol and Drug Test) Rule 2015 sets out rules for alcohol and drug testing of officers of Australian Border Force and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and includes a suite of safeguards, including that:

(a) the alcohol or drug test must be conducted in a respectful manner and in circumstances affording reasonable privacy;

(b) the test must not be conducted in the presence or view of a person whose presence is not necessary and must not involve the removal of more clothing than is necessary for the conduct of the test;

(c) if a hair sample is required, it must be collected in the least painful manner and not from an intimate area of the body;

(d) a body sample collected for an alcohol or drug test must be kept in a secure location and destroyed after a prescribed period; and

(e) information revealed by the drug and alcohol test must only be shared with individuals authorised by the legislative instrument.

These are matters that have been addressed elsewhere. In the absence of advice or reasoning from the minister as to safeguards which are currently in place, the committee has concluded that the instrument provides insufficient safeguards to ensure that the requirement that construction workers undergo drug and alcohol testing is a proportionate limitation on the right to privacy.

I will now speak to the other report that I have tabled. It provides information about the work of the committee during 2013-14, including major themes and scrutiny issues arising from legislation examined by the committee. I encourage fellow members and others to examine the committee’s reports to better inform their understanding of its deliberations. I think sometimes this is very necessary. With these comments I commend the committee’s 38th report of the 44th Parliament to the House.

Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (15:16): Mr Speaker, on indulgence, I thank you for the courtesy that you have provided to members of my family—my wife, Heather; my two daughters, Kirsty and Caitlin; Geoff and my grandchildren. I am delighted that not only are Quiana, Kalia and Archie with us but also Blythe. Blythe, I have to tell you, was born six weeks ago, and if she had been born naturally she would have been born today. My family are very special to me. It is a real pleasure that you have allowed them the privilege of being here with me and to join my friend Bernard Wright, the Attorney-General and the Minister for Defence, whom I thank for being here.

Before I begin, can I just say to my friends in the opposition: thank you for being here. I understand the difficulty that it has presented to some of your colleagues who have to be in another place. I do understand that.

I will speak of my family first, because often we do not think about them when we are here. Heather has been enormously supportive of me. We were married some 12 months before I was elected on 22 September 1973. We have been married now some 45 years and I am particularly proud of her. I might say that she probably would have made a better member than me.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

Mr RUDDOCK: She has supported me enormously and we have been a team over all of that time. Can I say how proud I am of both my daughters. They have achieved at extraordinarily high levels. Each of them in their respective fields has done extraordinarily well. It is often said that children of members of parliament have difficulty. They have managed not to. I might say—in case people ask me, particularly my friends in the media—I never brought them up to be parrots. Those who remember the events of the past and Australian Story will understand what I am saying.

Prime Minister: thank you for being here. I think it is particularly important, before I proceed, to mention that.

Our father was taken from us at a relatively young age, 62. I was born in Canberra; many do not realise that. Dad was a very senior official in the Commonwealth Public Service. He was unable to serve in the war because of a disease, muscular dystrophy. It is one of the reasons I like the question I put today. He had a very severe impediment but still sought to volunteer with members of his family. His brother was in the Battle of the Coral Sea, his father was running the booms on the Hawkesbury and on Sydney Harbour to protect them, and Great-grandfather was an admiral, I think, in the British navy—we wanted to be involved. But Dad was down here, seconded to the Commonwealth Public Service, and he worked under Sir Douglas Copland running price control. He was appointed Deputy Prices Commissioner and in 1949, when Prices was abolished, he was appointed secretary of the Grants Commission. My mother’s mother was dying of cancer, we went back to Sydney, and Dad took off in a different direction.

Dad was friends with some of the great ‘gnomes’ of Canberra, as the very senior bureaucrats in the economic area were known. Dad had a master’s degree in economics. He was absolutely convinced that the price control that he had to operate was not the way forward and that a much more liberal approach to managing economic issues was required. He later became a minister in the state government of New South Wales under the late Tom Lewis, who promoted him to that office. He was a minister up until just before he was taken from us.

I mention that because there are relatives of the Prime Minister who were very much involved in my early interest in politics. His father-in-law, Tom Hughes, the former member for Berowra—I was his Young Liberal chair. I worked with him and had such enormous respect for him—for his contribution to public life but also his great mind as a lawyer.

I might say that there were two great minds. Bob Ellicott, who also stood for a Berowra preselection and missed and later became the member for Wentworth, is another whom I include.

But I might say that my mother always used to say my future was in my father’s hands. Nobody would really understand this, but when I stood for preselection I had been the President of the Young Liberals in New South Wales and later President of the Young Liberals Australia wide. I nominated for Parramatta, and I found that I had 30 opponents. Oh, we wish you could get 30 candidates for preselection these days! One of them was a great Australian, Sir Nicholas Shehadie. Two other people became judges, one of the Family Court; another of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Two others became federal members and served with me: Maurie Neil SC and also John Spender SC. It was a pretty formidable field. You might wonder how a Young Liberal could beat candidates of such note.

Well, in part, my future was in my father’s hands. He had stood for preselection for Parramatta in 1958, and there had been a campaign to ensure that one of our great jurists won the seat. Sir Garfield Barwick beat my father by 27 to 23 for preselection in Parramatta. There were some very notable Australians who campaigned to get Sir Garfield Barwick in. It may surprise you to know that there were four people on the preselection for Parramatta in 1973 who had voted against my dad and who voted for me on that day. I always said that my future was in my father’s hands, and it was very much so. I would not have been selected were it not for those who had acted in that way.

Can I just say of my dad that he was still very surprised. He did not even come to the preselection. It was held in the Sofitel in Sydney. We went down to a Liberal Party event later in the day at one of the hotels in Elizabeth Bay, the Sebel Townhouse. Sir Robert Southey was there, and my father turned up in his bowling creams, having been at the West Epping Bowling Club until the preselection was resolved at about seven or eight o’clock at night. He was somewhat in his cups when he got there, and he came and said to Sir Robert Southey, ‘I just don’t know how he did it.’ Such was his confidence that he was not even prepared to be there!

But I had, as you have probably detected, an enormous respect for my dad. He was a member of parliament for some 14 years before he died in 1976. He was a person who gave service to the electorate and, with the disability he faced, that was extraordinarily difficult at times. I can remember one occasion when he turned up at the Eastwood Masonic Hall. There was a large crowd there, and he wanted to avoid it. He clumped down. Those who knew him—Bronwyn will remember him—know that he had those club feet. He knew he was not going to be able to get up the stairs, so he went to the door at the side of the stage. He did not read the sign on it that said ‘Gents’, and everybody was rather amused as he came out, somewhat embarrassed, and then was able to clamber up the stairs later on.

As I said, for me in those early years there were a number of exemplars: Tom Hughes, Sir John Carrick—if you look back at those who were in the Liberal Party at that time—John Howard, and Billy Snedden, who campaigned extraordinarily hard for me. There are others here, I might say. I should mention John Dowd and Chris Puplick because, when I was thinking about running for the parliament, I was in part persuaded by friends who were very active as Liberals in the party in New South Wales. They went down to our apartment at Neutral Bay, clambered down the stairs and said to Heather, ‘The country needs him.’ She was not sure, but I thank them for the confidence they had in me.

I am very conscious that there are some people here today who were involved in my campaign: Jane Prentice; Jeanette Farrell, who was in the Parramatta Young Liberals; and there are no doubt others that I remember well involved working for me at that time. I only want to single out two others, because they were not actually working for me at that time. If Michael Photios is here, all those who know him so favourably will know that I recruited him for the Liberal Party. Some thank me! But it was during that campaign.

And I might say Laurie Bennett. I do not know whether I can see him. Yes, I can. He accosted me at the Uniting Church hall in Parramatta during that by-election and quizzed me on every possible issue. He is my most severe critic. He is a man who is pledged to Parramatta, its history and what it means, and is not always happy with a lot of the developments that go on, but I have to say that he has driven me, at every election since, around every one of the 40 polling booths that we have had to do on polling day, and I thank him enormously for it.

Can I just say that for me the Liberal Party family has been particularly important. When I was first elected, Phillip Jeffrey had been the president of the conference, but he was in his 80s by that time and was a grand figure. Many others followed. Arthur Inglis, who is here today, was a conference president for me in Parramatta at that time. We had, I might say, also Bill Barrett, who passed away. We had another very dear friend, a solicitor, who actually passed away at a conference meeting that we were having in Eastwood. And John Hartigan was my conference president in Dundas for quite some time. John, tragically, is afflicted by a condition now that has meant that he had to go into a nursing home at an age much younger than most of us would anticipate.

And we have people like Lance Barrett, Rick Forbes, Tony Chappel and Felicity Findlay, who I mention because they have given me, in my conference, leadership beyond what you would regard as duty. They have served us very generously. I look at those who have ensured that the fundraising that I have been associated with was always appropriate, lawful. And, beyond doubt, there was the late Ern Watson, who was a banker during the war and later; Peter Graham, the mayor of Ryde, and Brian Carney, who has only just relinquished that role, and without them I would not have been able to undertake the task.

I hope you all forgive me for concentrating on some of the individuals before I move to matters of substance, because it would not be appropriate for me to ignore the way I have been served by outstanding staff over a long period of time. Jeanette Farrell, whom I have already mentioned, has been with me for almost 40 years. Either we pay them too much—and I never heard that allegation!—or she gives just extraordinary service. And I know it is the latter. And there are many of my more present staff, not all of whom I will name. Looking back, I started with Dorothy Steele BEM. I have had Sonia Gatfield with me for more than 20 years; I have had Robyn Kerr with me for more than 10. People who serve you in that way are extraordinary, and I have been extraordinarily well served by my electorate staff.

But I want to mention particularly those who have worked with me when I have been a minister. And I hope not-undue note will be taken of what I am about to say, because I was unhappy about an event that impacted on one of my former staff. My first chief of staff as a minister was Andrew Metcalfe. Andrew Metcalfe later became a senior officer in the Department of Immigration after he had served me. He later became a deputy secretary, in the Prime Minister’s department, and later departmental secretary. He was a very honourable and thoroughly professional Australian public servant, who served the government of the day, and I regret very much the way in which his service to this nation came to an end. Can I just say that I was well served, because he was with me at a time when I had very particular additional responsibilities early in the Howard government. I would not have survived as a minister were I not served by Andrew Metcalfe, who ensured that I was able to deal with the difficult issues involving transport and pecuniary interest statements that I know were very much in the mind of former Prime Minister Abbott when he looked at the way in which we should deal with those issues. But it was Metcalfe who ensured that I was able to manage those maters in that way.

I thank Ann Duffield for her service to me as a chief of staff, and she has served others since that time. I thank Steve Ingram, who was my chief of staff when I was Attorney-General and, I might say, continues to serve the government. I would not have known anything of his politics when he came to work for me as a media adviser, and I would have imputed nothing to his motives. I can only say that he has been an extraordinary servant of the government of the day, as you would expect, and very worthy of the trust that has been given to him.

I cannot mention all those who served with me as a minister. I would like to. But I will single out a couple. There is Janet Mackin, who has recently left Immigration but worked for me as a senior officer for a time. Tom Calma, who became the Social Justice Commissioner, worked for me and advised on Indigenous issues. Karim Barbara and others worked advising me in relation to communities. I could not have asked for a more outstanding team of people to work with me in that way over that time. I want to acknowledge my state parliamentary colleagues: Matt Kean and Damien Tudehope, who today sent me a message of goodwill, and David Elliott, Dominic Perrottet and Ray Williams, but particularly Barry O’Farrell and Bruce Baird, both of whom worked with me as state colleagues.

Can I just say that I am particularly impressed with our Australian bureaucracy. There are a number of people I have seen over the past few days—people like Helen Williams and Bill Farmer, who is here today, as well as Dennis Richardson, Rick Smith, Ed Killesteyn, Jane Halton and Rob Cornall. These are names that may mean something to all of you, but, I have to say—and I say this very deliberately; I said it at an event I had last night—we are extraordinarily well served by very fine public servants. Sometimes—and I say this as a word of advice—ministers have certain expectations, and there are public servants who sometimes have to give courageous advice and say, ‘Minister, that won’t work’, and sometimes that advice is not liked. I have found that if you get beside them and say, ‘Can you help find me another way?’ it is amazing what they are able to deliver. I have had some difficult policy issues to deal with from time to time and I would not in any way sell short the people who had to administer those policies and ensure all of that was done.

I thank those around the parliament. I mentioned the Speaker, but I mentioned also his predecessors. I acknowledge the Clerk, but I have also mentioned Bernard, who is here. I think of other clerks: Pettifer, Parkes, Blake, Browning and Lyn Barlin. I worked with Ian Harris, who still sends me messages at Christmas. I am always in awe of the people who assist us, but particularly the clerks. I want to add the librarians, the attendants, the transport officers, our Comcar drivers and our committee secretariats.

I am not going to offer a lot of advice today, but I say to you, Mr Speaker, that one of the great concerns I have about the way in which our committee system operates today is that the specialised advice that was there when I first joined this parliament 40 years ago no longer exists. I lament reports that merely categorise the evidence from those who just came to see you and then draw a conclusion from the evidence that you received. You need sound advisers. I look at people who were judges and advised me when I was inquiring into the Family Law Act back in the 1970s. I look at the people who were working in relation to Indigenous affairs and advised me. My adviser in relation to Indigenous affairs and anthropology became the Vice-Chancellor of Western Sydney University, just to give you an idea of the quality of the people who were working with those committees. In one way we have restructured the budgets so that the service is not available today, and it is something that needs to be redressed.

I want to take the opportunity to say something about the media. We all have a lot to say about the media. I think the media have changed the way in which they report on this parliament. There was a time in which a speech like this may even have been reported. I am not sure it will be. There was a time when question time was reported. All of it has changed because the print media are always too late; everything is broadcast on another medium beforehand. So we do not get the reporting; we have much more commentary.

That leads me to want to comment on a couple of journalists, if I may. I find that Michelle Grattan is the most difficult lady to work with because she has your number and she will ring you any hour of the day or night to check the accuracy of any comments you may have made! I must say to any media members who are listening: if you need to emulate anybody in terms of thoroughness of preparation, model yourself on Michelle Grattan. Paul Kelly is extraordinary. I have enjoyed working with people like Malcolm Farr. I hope you will excuse me if I single out a couple of people in the ABC. Mark Colvin received a kidney from a very dear friend of mine and is still broadcasting today. I might say, Emma Alberici befriended my friend when she was in London before she came back here. I have a very warm affection for each of them as well as Leigh Sales and Chris Uhlmann. Even though Chris is related to the other side by marriage, I think he is an extraordinarily professional broadcaster and I single him out. That enables me to thank some others you might not want me to say thanks to. I want to thank Alan Jones, Ray Hadley, John Mangos and John Gatfield because each of them have been willing to use their broadcasting skills to help on important anniversaries of mine. I acknowledge that and thank them for their friendship and their willingness to help in that way.

I want to take this opportunity to mention some other matters. I rarely prepare notes and I am going to have to move to them, if I may. It seems to me that it is appropriate that I should say something of some friendships that I have developed over time. They are unusual friendships for many, but they are friendships that reflect the cultural diversity of Australia. Some people do not necessarily understand why I have such a strong linkage. I went to Barker College. Paul Hong Lee and Jackson Seto were two Chinese students studying and I got to know them fairly well. When I lived in the suburb of Pennant Hills, I became very close to a particular Lebanese village, the village of Bane, because all of the people from the village of Bane settled locally and made an enormous contribution. They were friends to me and my family. Mary Brown—that was not her maiden name; she was a Bainey—took her sons down to Our Lady of Lebanon to campaign for me in 1973. I might say, they were not alone. I was helped by a very dear friend—a man for whom I have enormous respect; a man who was, perhaps, hard done by by some comments that were made at a later point in time: Karim Kisrwani. He is no longer with us. He was a travel agent in Harris Park who went to enormous difficulty to help me, aided by an alderman of Parramatta, the late Joe Barakat. They built up linkages within the Lebanese community that are reflected in the linkages I still have today. I think of Anwar Harb and Bishop Tarabay because in the Lebanese Christian community they play a very particular and important role. But they are not alone. I have known people of every faith—every Christian faith and Muslims of different backgrounds, as well people who come from other religions, such as Buddhists and Hindus, as it should be.

Those who have worked for me—and some of them are here, such as Yves Elkouri,the Tsakis family, Anthony Sicari—have been enormously supportive. Beyond them, I have friends, as John Alexander does, in the Armenian community. I have friends in the Vietnamese community. It started with Ian Macphee, who was minister for immigration. He said to me: ‘We are settling a lot of people from Vietnam in and around Cabramatta and we would like you to work with Dick Klugman’—who was then the member for Prospect—’on actually helping the Vietnamese to settle.’

I built up linkages. I do not want to mention them all. There was a beautiful lady, Kim Ngoc Dang, leader of the Vietnamese Women’s Association of Australia. She got me involved with that group, which wanted to obtain freedom for the Vietnamese.

Equally I have had linkages over time with the Chinese community. When I look around—and this may surprise you—I see that there are numbers of them here today, such as Ben Chow, Amen Lee, Kevin Liu and Frances Lim. What more can you say? When people you have built up these linkages with still want to know you when you are no longer in any particular area of influence, it is something that is uniquely special.

I will just say to all my friends in the parliament that 25 per cent of Australians are overseas born. Some of them are born in New Zealand and some of them are born in the UK, but most of them are born elsewhere. If you want to ignore that 15 or 20 per cent, in my view, you do so at your peril. Those linkages are not made overnight. They are not made just because you are thinking of your next election. They can only be developed over time when you have friendships.

I want to share with you today some thoughts about broad policy issues. I have an intense interest in human rights questions. I always have. There was a time in which I was characterised as having perhaps lost some of my passion. It is important that you know how in this parliament we became interested in the death penalty issue and an organisation called Amnesty International.

It was one of my Labor friends, a dear lady from Victoria named Lenore Ryan, who campaigned to have Amnesty International recognised in the Australian parliament and to form the first parliamentary group of Amnesty International. What I came to the parliament, there were still the 49ers, the people who went through the war and had some very strong views about communism and the Eastern Europeans and what they had fled. One of them was a former member for Mackellar. His name was Billy Wentworth. Anybody who knew Billy Wentworth would know that he was a strident anti-communist. He came to me after Tony Lambert approached us and said: ‘I think it’s all right. They hate the communists just as much as they hate those right-wing dictators. We can join.’ We got involved in building up Amnesty to be the largest and first support group in this parliament. Many try to emulate and follow, but it has been an extraordinary organisation. I thank Bill Wentworth for his encouraging me to be involved. I became chair. Others followed, particularly the late Alan Missen. It has played a very significant part in this parliament. I thank colleagues who are still involved to this day.

I was particularly encouraged by an organisation that the former Labor leader Kim Beazley Sr was involved in. It was called Moral Re-Armament and is now Initiatives of Change. The late Dr Malcolm Mackay as well as Fred Chaney and Kim Beazley encouraged me to get involved. I think many do not know of the work that that organisation has undertaken in trying to resolve conflicts around the world. It was Moral Re-Armament that encouraged me to take an interest in Cambodia and Vietnam. In the 1980s they sponsored me, Ric Charlesworth and Chris Schacht. All of us went to Cambodia. Cambodia was not easy to go to then. You would fly in one day and there would not be another plane until the next week. We were there just after the killing fields had been freed by the Vietnamese.

I played a part in focusing on refugees. It is very important to understand my personal involvement with the Khmer, the Vietnamese. I visited people in places like Hong Kong and Pulau Bidong in Malaysia and focused on what was happening in the Philippines and Indonesia. All of this commenced with Moral Re-Armament. I had the later opportunity to visit Afghan refugees in Pakistan and refugees in Eastern Europe, particularly in the former Yugoslavia. It is no accident that I came to a view that Australia should be focused on helping refugees who need help most. I played a part later as a minister in visiting Kakuma in Kenya and camps on Lake Victoria and in Tanzania and in putting in place the programs to bring people from South Sudan, Burundi and later, from Western Africa, Sierra Leone here as part of our commitment to resettlement. I thank my friends in Moral Re-Armament for the work they did.

I will just mention, because it is perhaps not well understood, that their focus has always been on reconciliation. If you remember John Bond, who played a part in promoting reconciliation amongst Australians with our First Australians, he brought the message of Moral Re-Armament to Australia, and never really recognised that they were involved in that way. He has gone back to Chur in Switzerland, or is living in the United Kingdom, and is still organising Moral Re-Armament conferences today.

Before I became a minister, I was approached by a committee to visit South Africa when it had an apartheid regime. I would never take up the invitation. I had the great privilege of going to South Africa in 1994 as a Commonwealth monitor to see the campaign. Mine was a critical view of some aspects of the campaign. It almost got me into trouble, because everybody wanted to endorse the outcome. I wanted to draw attention to some of the difficulties. But, beside that, I was there with John Cain, Janine Haines and Professor Duncan Chappell, the chief electoral commissioner. For me, it was extraordinary insightful at a time when we were making history.

For me, in the work that I was able to do recently in the parliamentary group Australians against capital punishment, I want to thank Chris Hayes for his co-chairmanship and to acknowledge its importance. It says something about us that we have a group like this. I hope that within a day or so we will have something more to say about the death penalty before we leave this parliament.

I have a couple more points I want to make. Parliamentary committees can be important in preparing you for issues that you have to deal with. For me, I was involved in the area of Aboriginal affairs. It was almost by accident. When I arrived in this place, there were some very notable members of parliament, and the chair was Jimmy Cope. Colleagues opposite may not be prepared to remember as much. He was an independent Speaker, and we saw what happened. I can remember when I first arrived I had Jim Killen befriending me. I had Freddie Daly welcoming me in Jimmy Cope’s office. He said to Heather, ‘I am terribly sorry. Welcome, but I can’t wish you a long stay.’ He was one of the characters. But one of the other characters was our Whip. He said to me, ‘You have to go on a parliamentary committee. You’ve been elected in the by-election.’ I said, ‘Which ones do you recommend?’ He said, ‘We’ll wait until there is a vacancy.’ The first vacancy was in Aboriginal affairs. For me, even though I had taken a lot of interest in Indigenous issues—I had befriended people around Sydney university; people like Charlie Perkins and so on; contemporaries—nevertheless, working on the Aboriginal affairs committee equipped me in a way that I did not understand until much later. Dealing with some of the issues like alcohol problems and empowering Indigenous people to take some responsibility for those issues, in my view, were important recommendations that we were making almost 35-40 years ago.

I chaired a joint select committee on the Family Law Act. Unless you think that you can do all that work inquiring into important areas of public policy, let me just tell you: some may criticise me for it, some may thank me for it, but it was as a result of that committee’s work that we had the Child Support Scheme to ensure that parents, as they were able, properly looked after their children when there were matrimonial issues involved. Particularly the work on that committee framed the approach I took to family law when I later became the Attorney-General. It seems to me that the more we can get people out of the courts and to deal with issues without litigation, the more effective we will be. That was etched in my memory at that time. I had the opportunity of serving on committees that implemented the Northern Territory land rights legislation. For me, that was unique.

I never really had great expectations of being on the frontbench. Malcolm Fraser did not give me preferment. Another 15 or so years later, Andrew Peacock gave me the chance to be the shadow minister for the ACT. They would not even trust me with territories! The ABC helped me enormously because immediately before AM they had a little slot—five minutes to eight. I could get on to it almost every day as the de facto ‘mayor of Canberra’. There was a dear lady—whose name has escaped me for the moment, but it will come back to me—who was Greek and was involved in the ACT Liberal Party. She said to me, ‘You’re going to need an ethnic affairs policy for the ACT.’ I said, ‘That’s a great idea. I’ll work on it.’ She said, ‘No, no. Don’t worry. I’ve got one here for you.’ I took the document. We then had one of our first difficult internal debates about immigration issues. I will not go into the background of it, but it was difficult. Michael Hodgman was the shadow minister. He wanted to put some discriminatory measures into the policy. The party rejected it. At the end of the discussion, I said to Peacock, who was then leader, ‘What are we going to do about this policy? Now that we have settled the immigration policy, what are we going to do about settlement policies?’

The late Michael Hodgman threw his hands up in horror and said, ‘Look, I couldn’t do that I haven’t had enough time to work on anything like that. This is outrageous.’ Peacock said to me, ‘Look, if you think you know what’s required, why don’t you bring a paper to the next shadow cabinet meeting.’ I went back to my office, I took out my ACT document and I struck out ‘ACT’ wherever it occurred and I took it to the next shadow ministry meeting. I can remember the discussions with the late Jim Carlton—it was quite a meaningful discussion—and then Peacock asked me whether I wanted to be shadow minister for immigration. I was appointed; I did not hold it for long. There was a change in leadership—John Howard decided that Alan Cadman could do it better.

I had a period off the front bench. I have to say that I received some advice, and I want to offer it to colleagues to take as you will. Fred Chaney said to me at that time, ‘How you handle disappointment is a key to your future.’ I set out to take up other interests and involved myself fully in them—I even became a Deputy Speaker for a time—and later, when there was a change in leadership, I came back.

It was the time after a very difficult period in public life that I want to address now. I do have a very strong view on the importance of non-discriminatory immigration policies. There was a time when we had some internal debates about it which brought about a time when I came to a view that I was prepared to put my parliamentary career on the line. It is amazing that the Labor Party knows nothing about these sorts of things—you do not let people cross the floor; I only remember Georgy Georges as one who had some difficulty—but in the Liberal Party on a matter of conscience you have always been entitled to cross the floor.

I tell you. it is much easier to cross the floor on a taxation issue than it is on other questions. I might say that I thought my career was at an end. I was certainly opposed for preselection. I do not want to speak ill of my friend John Howard when I say this, but it was an issue of contest between us. We talked it through; I will not go into all the reasons we had the vote, though it should never have happened. But we did have it. I do not know if anyone has ever been to a convention of their party shortly after they have crossed the floor—I did. It was held in the Hilton in Sydney; John Howard looked at the thousand people who were there and he said, ‘In our party every member has an opportunity to cross the floor on a matter of conscience, and we respect that.’ After applause, he said, ‘Of course, at the time of preselection you have the opportunity to take it into account.’

Peacock brought me back. I would like to mention that John Hewson kept me on. John Hewson lost the unlosable election, but he had helped ensure that I was in a seat in the parliament, my seat of Dundas having been abolished. John Hewson gave me support and encouragement to move to Berowra but said to me, ‘You’ve got to demonstrate that you can do more than immigration, and I am putting you into social security.’ So I then had a period in social security with John Howard. We were elected in 96, and John Howard asked me to be his immigration minister.

I want to make one point about being immigration minister: there are difficult issues that you have to deal with. But there is one positive point I would make with as much strength as I can muster: immigration is an economic portfolio about nation building. The most difficult task I had to undertake as Minister for Immigration was restoring integrity to an immigration program that was driven by fraud and family reunion—it was 60 per cent family reunion. If you want a measure—when we introduced screening in relation to some family relationships, the application numbers fell by half. When we looked at some of the people who would sponsor partners from abroad, we found one man who could not make relationships work and he had sponsored nine partners from the Philippines over time. It was extraordinarily difficult to have to bring the numbers down and to restore integrity, but I am most proud that today we have an immigration program that is supported by the Australian people as a whole and that is now seen as an economic program that is about nation-building.

I do not criticise integrity measures—they are absolutely necessary and sometimes they are extraordinarily difficult. I believe that we have to be always as humane as possible in the way in which we deal with people, but I believe that, if we do not manage our borders, we cannot manage an immigration program in the national interest. It is extraordinarily difficult. It is important for Australia and its cohesiveness that we manage those issues with compassion. I welcome the present minister’s desire to get children out of detention and to resolve issues where it is possible, but I know the enormous challenge and difficulty.

I was able to play a part in relation to Indigenous affairs and reconciliation. I thank John Howard for allowing me to do that. For me, it was particularly important, although it was probably more challenging to be an immigration minister as well as having to manage Indigenous affairs, and that was over a period of time.

But perhaps the greatest privilege was to be the nation’s first law officer. I never thought I would be in public life for the length of time I have been. I am a solicitor—not a senior counsel, Senator Brandis. I still hold a practising certificate because I never knew when I might have to go back. The Attorney-General’s first responsibility is the safety and security of Australia, and, to implement some of the laws that deal with a right that I think is of fundamental importance, the right to life, you often have to do some quite difficult things. I am partly responsible for some of those laws and, I hope, for some of the checks that ensure that they are not abused. It was a great privilege to work with one of our most senior public servants, Dennis Richardson, whom I mentioned earlier, who was head of ASIO at the time. I have enormous respect for those organisations and what they do.

But I did not want to be remembered as an Attorney who was responsible only for national security; I wanted to implement important, broader reforms. One of the interesting areas was defamation. I might say that I think there is enormous opportunity to work with the states to codify laws to eliminate differences. I do not think we do enough of it, and it ought to be top of mind in these ministerial council meetings. You can do a great deal.

The way in which forum shopping occurred in relation to defamation was appalling. I went to a meeting of SCAG, the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General, and I was told by my officials: ‘This matter of defamation law reform has been on the agenda for almost 20 years, since Michael Kirby wrote his report. Unless we can move somewhere on this, we might as well just take it off the agenda.’ I asked them how we could move on it. ‘You might be able to use the corporations power to legislate. It would cover the field except for community noticeboards and pamphleteering,’ they told me. I thought, ‘That’s a great idea.’ I went to the state attorneys and I said, ‘Unless you’re prepared to reform these laws, I might have to legislate.’ I then got officials drafting a Commonwealth code and I started consultations. And, Prime Minister, I met with your father-in-law, a leading silk in defamation matters. He told me, ‘If you’re going to reform the law, it has to be the New South Wales approach, the common law.’ You can hear Tom saying it! I would go to Queensland, and the lawyers would look at me and say, ‘No, no, you’ve got to reform it, but it has to be the Griffith code.’ I tell you they were pretty obdurate.

You might have thought that getting the states to agree was going to be difficult. But I promoted more and more the idea that the Commonwealth would take it over and we would legislate to deal with some of the issues I regarded as important. I must say I do not think you should be able to defame the dead; we still can. I did have some views about limiting claims of judgement against media, but some of the states were prepared to compromise on limiting the size of judgements. Amazingly, in order to ensure that I could not legislate, New South Wales Attorney Bob Debus was able to convince all of his state Labor colleagues—because they were all state Labor governments at the time—that they should cover the field. So the uniform defamation law was to spite Philip Ruddock! If you understand that, you can appreciate that you can do a lot if you are prepared to argue the case.

Personal property security took a while to come, but, to me, 80 different laws covering all the various forms of personal property security in each state was never the way to go. Important family law reforms requiring that people could not commence litigation in relation to children until they had at least attempted mediation, and establishing the Family Relationship Centres to try and get that away from the legal profession were, I thought, particularly important reforms.

I am grateful for the opportunity I was given. I thank my friend John Howard for his generous remarks about me as a minister; I think he described me as a safe pair of hands. For me, the changes that I was able to initiate made it all worthwhile.

I was grateful for the opportunity Tony Abbott gave me to be shadow cabinet secretary in opposition, and for my appointment as Chief Government Whip, but I also thank those who have enabled me to fulfil other roles.

I want to thank the Prime Minister, who recognised my particular interest in human rights issues and presented me with the very difficult decision that I have had to make. I have been involved in the human rights scrutiny committee in this parliament. I have chaired the Human Rights Subcommittee. I have been involved in Australians against Capital Punishment. I am involved with Amnesty. It is there; I live it every day. But my view is that the offer that has been made for me to engage in trying to get Australia elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council, where we might be able to play a more meaningful role in some of these issues, builds on those areas of personal interest in a way I could not have dreamed of. I thank you, Prime Minister, and the foreign minister, for the confidence you have put in me to play a part in trying to secure that outcome. If we are able to influence around the world many of these issues about which I feel most strongly, I believe I may have played an important part.

This has not been an easy decision for me. My wife and family know that I have agonised about it. It is a matter of balance. It is not easy to leave. Contribution in this parliament, if you can make it, is extraordinarily important. But nobody has an entitlement to be here. Nobody. I just make that point because, for me, I have made a difficult choice and I want you to know that it was difficult.

I take a moment to say that numbers of people have worked with me. One has secured endorsement from my party to succeed me in the electorate of Berowra. I hope it will not be seen as a partisan political point. I do not know that the Labor Party is going to get to a 20 per cent swing in Berowra. So I wish Julian Leeser well in his quest to succeed me. He is a person who has led the Menzies Research Centre. He has considerable skills and attainment, and I wish them well.

Colleagues, I wish you all well in the elections that are before you. I have not singled you all out. I apologise for that. I do not know that there is another half-hour.

Mr Pyne: Of course, there is! The budget’s not till half past seven.

Mr RUDDOCK: Be careful what you wish for! Colleagues, I value the friendship of you all. It has been particularly important for me. I hope you will excuse my gratuitous advice, as I have offered it. Prime Minister, I wish you and your colleagues well in what is before you. I have great confidence in you and your capacity to be able to continue to lead this country. I value your friendship, your encouragement and your support.


Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth—Prime Minister) (16:17): Mr Speaker on indulgence: if I my add some brief words to the acclamation to the Father of the House. Christopher Wren’s son wrote of him, in St Paul’s Cathedral, ‘Si monumentum requiris, circumspice’, which translates: ‘If you seek his monument, look around you.’ Philip Ruddock’s family is here—Heather, his daughters and his grandchildren—and you see the love of that family. That, indeed, is a great monument. But there is a larger monument that Philip Ruddock has built. We are the most successful multicultural society in the world. It is the work of millions. It is the work of all Australians. But there is no Australian who has served in this parliament, who has done more to create that great success—the world’s greatest multicultural society—than Philip Ruddock, and we salute him.

We salute you in your modesty. You have spoken to us—you could have taken up all the time until the budget—and almost all of your speech, with characteristic modesty, was about the thanks you owe to others. We thank you, Philip Ruddock. Thank you for your service to Australia.

The SPEAKER: I thank the Prime Minister.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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