SMA Petition Speech – 29th March 2018

Mar 29, 2018

To save lives and radically improve the quality of life for all patients with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), the childhood version of Motor Neurone Disease. It is requested that the Australian Government urgently fast track the availability of the life-saving drug nusinersen (Spinraza) on to the PBS list for all patients with Spinal Muscular Atrophy by June 2018. This time frame is critical because SMA is a progressive disease. Timely access to this treatment will mean the difference between living and dying, walking or not walking and either minimising the loss of motor function or rapidly losing the motor function that allows people to have any independent quality of life. This is the first and only treatment worldwide for this rare disease population.

The SMA Community requests that the Australian Government approves nusinersen (Spinraza) for PBS listing for all patients with Spinal Muscular Atrophy by June 2018, outside of the normal Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee meeting dates. This action would ensure that families within this rare disease population could gain timely access to urgent life-saving treatment and radically improved quality of life for patients with SMA.

From 11,201 citizens (Petition No. EN0462)

Petition received.

Photo of MPMr BYRNE: SMA is the No. 1 genetic killer of infants under the age of three. It’s the childhood version of motor neurone disease. I’m pleased to be able to table this petition, and I wish to congratulate Julie Cini on all of her hard work and persistence in campaigning on behalf of the SMA community: thank you. And thank you to the families who are here supporting her today.

An example of this tireless campaigning is the recent announcement by the Minister for Health proposing that the government will subsidise genetic testing to families to determine if they are carriers of diseases such as SMA. This announcement, however, is a long-term goal, with the minister admitting that this kind of universal access to genetic testing could take up to 10 years. We need to do something before that.

As of today, 25 families have received access to nusinersen, known as Spinraza, which has changed their lives dramatically. The young children to whom this drug has been administered are now reaching developmental goals and experiencing a better overall quality of life. However, there are over 200 families, some of whom are here, that are still waiting to gain access to this life-changing treatment. Every day that passes without this drug means that parents have to watch their children’s motor skills deteriorate—unable to do simple tasks, such as feed themselves, brush their teeth or even sit up unsupported. These families live in hope that one day soon they will be able to access this vital drug. Therefore, as I said, I’m pleased to present the petition to this house on behalf of the people standing behind me and those that will be listening.

The petition reads that they want to save the lives and radically improve the quality of lives for all patients with spinal muscular atrophy, the childhood version of motor neurone disease, and they request that the Australian government urgently fast-track the availability of the life-saving drug Spinraza onto the PBS list for all patients with spinal muscular atrophy by June 2018. This time frame is critical because SMA is a progressive disease. Timely access to this treatment will be literally the difference between living and dying, walking or not walking, and either minimising the loss of motor neurone function or rapidly losing the motor function that allows people to have any independent quality of life.

This is the first and only treatment worldwide for this rare disease population, as demonstrated by the people behind me and the 11,200 signatures. We need this drug. We need this drug on the market as soon as possible, and listed so that families like those behind me can have access to this life-saving drug.

Holodomor Famine in Ukraine Speech – 26 Feb 2018

Feb 26, 2018

In the spirit of bipartisanship, I second the motion. In rising to support this very worthy motion moved by the member for Dunkley, I’m reminded of discussions about history and the lessons you learn from history that I had with my parents around the kitchen table when I was a young man. I think many on the other side and I know the member for Canberra did as well, in different ways.

My father, who recently passed away, spoke about the great dictators in human history, the impact that totalitarian regimes could have and the people who oversaw those totalitarian regimes, and mentioned three things that should not be forgotten; the first one was the Holocaust; the second one was, in my father’s words, the mass murder perpetrated by Joseph Stalin; and the third was the cultural revolution led by Mao Zedong, which killed many millions of people.

The reason my father raised these issues—and the reason I’m very happy to speak to these particular issues—was that we must always learn from history. Item 7 in the member for Dunkley’s motion says:

… recognises the importance of remembering and learning from such dark chapters in human history to ensure that such crimes against humanity are not allowed to be repeated…

That is one of the key reasons we are here—to remember. In remembering and discussing these terrible events that occurred, for the many young people who did not live through those experiences, we drive home the importance of why we do need to learn from history: if you don’t learn from history, you can repeat history. The question is: do we want these very dark chapters of our history, particularly from the 20th century, to be repeated?

Having spoken about this informally, I wish to pay my respects to the Australian Ukrainians who had family members who lived through that particular tragedy. As the previous member said, an estimated seven million Ukrainians starved to death as a consequence of Stalin’s policies between 1932 and 1933. The term ‘tragedy’ is used, but I think it was deliberate. It began in the chaos of a particular theory of collectivisation, when millions of peasants were forced off their land and made to join state farms. It was then exacerbated in the autumn of 1932 when the Soviet politburo, the leadership of the Soviet Communist Party, took a series of decisions that deepened the famine in the Ukrainian countryside. According to Anne Applebaum in her article in The Atlantic:

At the height of the crisis, organized teams of policemen and local Party activists, motivated by hunger, fear, and a decade of hateful propaganda, entered peasant households and took everything edible: potatoes, beets, squash, beans, peas, and farm animals. At the same time, a cordon was drawn around the Ukrainian republic to prevent escape. The result was a catastrophe: At least 5 million people perished of hunger all across the Soviet Union. Among them were nearly 4 million Ukrainians who died not because of neglect or crop failure, but because they had been deliberately deprived of food. Neither the Ukrainian famine nor the broader Soviet famine were ever officially recognized by the USSR. Inside the country the famine was never mentioned. All discussion was actively repressed; statistics were altered to hide it.

It’s gratifying, though, that you can try to cover over these mass crimes against humanity but eventually they see the light of day. To those listening in this parliament it is gratifying in particular that, on the 70th anniversary of this very dark chapter in human history, a joint statement on the great famine of 1932-33 in the Ukraine, the ‘Holodomor’, was issued on 10 November 2003 at the United Nations in New York. The statement noted that in the former Soviet Union millions of men, women and children fell victim to the cruel actions and policies of the totalitarian regime. The great famine took between seven and 10 million innocent lives and became a national tragedy of the Ukrainian people. The reason why we are talking about this here and why I commend the member is that we must remind people who have not lived through this period that human nature does have a very dark side to it. Totalitarian regimes in their quest to control populations will embark upon the most inhumane measures we can possibly think of. It reminds people that when you have a totalitarian regime these things can happen. We must never forget this and we never will.

Christopher Klepacz Speech – 26 Feb 2018

Feb 26, 2018

I rise today to talk about an extraordinary young man named Christopher Klepacz. I was honoured last week to be able to present him with a belated 2018 Holt Australia Day Award. Christopher is a young man of tremendous courage and resilience who has overcome much in his young life. He was born with cerebral palsy. He studies VCAL at Hampton Park Secondary College and this year he’s started year 12 and has also started a Certificate III in Information, Digital Media and Technology at the Narre Warren Community Learning Centre.

Last year, Chris set himself the goal of learning how to advocate for himself more effectively on a range of public and social issues. In one instance, Chris visited the Victorian parliament to present his concerns to the inquiry into civics and electoral participation in Victorian state parliamentary elections. As a result of his advocacy work, Christopher has been nominated for a Victorian Young Achiever Award.

He has also raised his concerns publicly about the NDIS. Chris wants to make sure that young people with a disability under the NDIS get the best possible funding package in the future.

He has also submitted his wish to the Starlight Children’s Foundation to visit the Australian parliament later on this year, and I am very pleased to say that the Starlight Children’s Foundation have granted his wish and will provide funding for a trip to Canberra for Christopher. He has informed me that he is excited to come to question time. I’ll need to talk to him about that!

I’d just like to commend Christopher to this House. He is a wonderful example of a young man who has overcome tremendous odds to make a difference to others’ lives.

Ongoing Human Rights Abuses in Cambodia Speech – 26 Feb 2018

Feb 26, 2018

I start my contribution on the Appropriation Bill (No.3) 2017-2018 by reflecting on Australia Day in Hampton Park and the Day of Nations. It was a good day, particularly given the contribution made by the Hampton Park Progress Association and the good volunteers who are involved with it on the Hampton Park progress committee. What it did was demonstrate the diversity that exists within our country. Referring to the Day of Nations means that the local community, particularly in Hampton Park, came together to celebrate the contribution that people make, regardless of their walk of life, where they came from or what religion they practice. It was a great spirit there.

One of the key issues that has arisen in my constituency over some period of time is the persecution of the Oromo people in Ethiopia. I have had fairly extensive consultations with the Oromo community, particularly with three representatives from that community. I made a commitment to them that I would raise in this place their ongoing concerns about human rights issues and persecution in Ethiopia, in particular the ongoing plight of the Oromo people in Ethiopia. The representatives that I spoke to updated me on the latest developments regarding the Oromo protests in Ethiopia. I have spoken on numerous occasions about how, over recent years, the Oromo people who, according to the Oromo diaspora, newspaper reports and the US congress, experience ongoing persecution and are targeted by the Ethiopian government.

Since April 2014, the Oromo have been staging protest rallies across Ethiopia against, in their words, ‘the systematic marginalisation and persecution of ethnic Oromo’. The immediate trigger for the first wave of protests was a development plan that sought to expand the territorial limits of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, into neighbouring Oromo villages and towns. Oromos saw the proposed master plan as a blueprint for annexation, which would further accelerate the eviction of the Oromo farmers from their ancestral lands. In light of the Oromo protests, the Ethiopian government has used overwhelming force—this has been seen on many occasions, and I have spoken about it in this House—to crush the protests, killing hundreds of protesters and arresting thousands.

According to my sources within the Oromo community, the Oromo diaspora here in Australia, in light of the ongoing persecution, on the 11 February 2018 the youth of the Oromia region launched a new protest and a three-day market boycott. This drastic economic boycott suspended the operation of businesses and government activities. It was unlike any other protest in the history of the country. The objectives of this particular boycott were: to drop all charges against senior opposition leaders and release all political prisoners without any preconditions; to stop displacing Oromos from their land and intimidating the Oromo people; to stop the war waged on the Oromo people along the Oromia border with the Somali region, using the notorious Somali special forces known as ‘Liyu police’; and to stop the killing of innocent people by the army.

The impact of the boycott was felt nationally, as the whole Oromia region boycotted the movement of people, goods and services across the country. Markets were closed down. Civil servants did not turn up to government offices, and schools and universities were closed. The transportation system was also brought to a complete halt. This boycott was well organised, disciplined and attracted support from just about every different grouping of the community and the country. As a result of this boycott, the Ethiopian government was shaken to its core within a matter of 48 hours. Consequently, 70 opposition leaders, including Bekele Gerba, the secretary-general of the opposition party, were released. Bekele Gerba, the secretary-general of the Oromo Federalist Congress was arrested in December 2015 after mass protests broke out in the Oromia region over accusations that farmers were being forced to sell land, with scant compensation for the plan.

In light of the release of key opposition leaders, as well as other prisoners, the third day of the boycott was called off. That resulted in jubilation across Ethiopia and particularly across Oromia. However, in addition to these celebrations, the Oromia peoples are mourning the loss of over 30 civilians who were killed in various cities across the country by a special government unit called Agazi. The most callous of these cruelties took place at the Hamaressa camp. On 11 February this year, as the boycott commenced, the Agazi invaded the Hamaressa camp in eastern Oromia where defenceless and displaced people were sheltering. Over 13 people were killed. Other Oromia people were uprooted from their homes by the government militia.

Unfortunately, as I speak, I’m informed that close to one million Oromo internally displaced peoples in Bale, Burana and Harar deserts are exposed to starvation and other human rights violations. These internally displaced peoples are now surviving on help that is being sourced globally by Oromos, including those in Australia. I think our displaced Oromo diaspora believes that the Australian government should consider providing aid relief to the Oromo peoples experiencing hardship in Ethiopia.

They’ve also let me know about something pretty disturbing that occurred in relation to Facebook, which resulted in an online petition that called on Facebook to immediately unblock the Facebook account of Jawar Mohammed, the executive director of the Oromia Media Network and a prominent Ethiopian political activist, who has over 1.2 million followers. He was able to use Twitter but not Facebook. According to the head petitioner, Girma Gutema, an Oromo living in Norway, it was particularly disconcerting to see Facebook block Jawar’s account at this critical time when the Ethiopian people were campaigning to free all political prisoners in Ethiopia.

Jawar, as a longtime and prolific user of Facebook for over 13 years, had a significant role in the effort of the Ethiopian people to free themselves of the existing oppressive regime. The act of blocking Jawar Mohammed’s account by Facebook violates freedom of expression and breaches the user guidelines of Facebook itself. In the end, the petition called on Facebook executives to immediately unblock the account of Jawar Mohammed and publicly apologise to the millions of Ethiopian Facebook users who felt that Facebook might compromise their privacy and personal data. I understand that that Facebook account has now been unblocked. But I would raise in this House, when we are talking about companies like Facebook and social media, talking about their freedoms being encroached upon by impending government legislation, bad encryption or other things, that blocking someone’s account who has been using their account the 13 years—and my understanding is not advocating violent activities, but for peaceful protest—does call into question, the capacity of totalitarian governments to influence social media providers. I think that’s an issue that my friend the Hon. Mike Kelly, the member for Eden-Monaro, would share with me as something that I think that our intelligence and security committee will be looking at. It’s hard for Facebook to be arguing about their freedoms when they have actively suppressed the freedom on Facebook of someone who is a key leader of the Oromo community without sufficient justification; and, coincidentally, that block is then removed after the Ethiopian government had released political prisoners. I think that’s something that if Facebook actually looked at I would like them to respond to. I don’t think it’s satisfactory. On behalf of Oromo community, both here and in Ethiopia, I ask: why was this gentleman’s Facebook account blocked? In the view of many of the Oromo diaspora in this country as well, they believe that there need to be some answers provided. So I would urge the Ethiopian government and will continue to rise on half of the Oromo community in my constituency and elsewhere in Victoria and this country, to cease the ongoing persecution of the Oromo people in Ethiopia. I will continue to work with Oromo leaders in Victoria and overseas to continue to highlight their concerns.

Some will say that what happens in Africa does not affect our country. That is just not true. Africa is a growing series of countries that will have an increasing say in what happens in world affairs. What does happen in Ethiopia, regardless of how far away people think it is, does have an impact and ultimately will have an impact on this country. What happens to the Ethiopian government—there is a fairly substantial transition occurring at present period of time. We’re not exactly sure where that will lead to, but it does have an impact on Africa. It does have an impact on the security of the country. It does have an impact on the diaspora communities here. Depending on what the outcome is, it could have a quite destabilising impact on those countries within Africa. So when people say that is none of our concern or none of our business, it is, because ultimately this does impact on us. It does have some influence and bearing on us. It is something that I will continue to raise in this chamber.

The other thing I want to raise in the time remaining is the issue of human rights persecutions in Cambodia. Over recent months I’ve continued to be briefed by the president of the Cambodian Association of Victoria, Councillor Youhorn Chea, and also the City of Greater Dandenong Councillor Heang Tak, along with Hong Lim, the retiring member for Clarinda in the Victorian parliament. Why we have an interest in Cambodia in particular is that before in foreign affairs minister and the former member for Holt, Gareth Evans, was a key influence of the Cambodia peace accord. Hun Sen was around at that time. I don’t think Gareth in his wildest dreams would have thought that we would be in a situation where we would be talking in this parliament about Hun Sen, his activities and what he has been doing in Cambodia, particularly to the opposition. I think that should cause us all grave concern. I know that Gareth has been strongly outspoken with respect to the human rights abuses that have been occurring in Cambodia, and he will continue to be, given that he was the father of the Cambodian peace accord.

I want to read into the parliamentary record that according to Lindsay Murdoch’s article in The Age:

Cambodia’s ruling party has drawn-up a five-year plan that critics say will entrench the dictatorship of strongman Hun Sen through intimidation, harassment and arrests. The plan crushes hopes that Hun Sen would allow a return to political freedoms and a semblance of democracy after mid-year elections.

Unfortunately the Cambodian government state agencies in Phnom Penh last year launched a sweeping crackdown targeting the opposition, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, non-government organisations, human rights and labour activists, independent media outlets and foreigners living in the country.

I’d like to commend the member for Hotham for her work in advocating in this place on behalf of the Cambodian Association of Victoria, and obviously share the concern of the well-established, law-abiding, peaceful Cambodian community in this country who feel deeply concerned about what’s happening in Cambodia at this time. I am deeply concerned by the Cambodian Supreme Court’s decision to dissolve the country’s main opposition party, the Cambodian National Rescue Party, and ban CNRP parliamentarians and officials from engaging in politics for five years. It is essential that Cambodia has a viable opposition and a free press. Australia has a long history working with the Cambodian people to create a fairer and more democratic Cambodia. The Paris Peace Accords, as I have mentioned before, in which Australia played a central role, promised the Cambodian people the right to free and fair elections. I would certainly urge the Cambodian government—and I know that Hun Sen will be visiting this country soon—to reconsider its ongoing persecution of opposition parties and dissenting forces in Cambodia.

In the time I have remaining I want to go back to the Hampton Park Day of Nations. What was really instructive about the Hampton Park Day of Nations was the diversity that we saw. At the Day of Nations we also held the Holt Australia Day Awards to honour people who had made a contribution to a better community, and the people whose names we read out came from all parts of the world. It didn’t matter what race, colour or creed; they were all Australians and we were all honouring the contribution that they had made to this country. In the ongoing discussion that occurs about this country, we need to remember that we ask them to abide by our laws and values but they also make a substantial contribution to our country—something that we should continue to honour and recognise. (Time expired)

2017 Holt Community Spirit & Leadership Awards Speech – 12 Feb 2018

Feb 12, 2018

Last year, in December 2017, I was proud to present 43 students from 39 local schools with the 2017 Holt Community Spirit and Leadership Awards, held at the Cranbourne Community Theatre. These awards recognised the outstanding contribution made by students, and the difference that their hard work and their dedication made to the schools and to the broader community. I’d like to read their names into the parliamentary record so we have a permanent record of those that we honoured at these community spirit and leadership awards. These young students were: Emily Franklin, Shaylah Portelli-Moore, Sean McKigney, Arien Pateras, Adithya Prateep, Elli-Dion Martin, Jashan Jangra, Aliyah Jewel, Mahonri Akaiti, Indi Ogilvie, Jade Jolicoeur, Jessica Nikitina-Li, Maya and Sarah Ghassali, Jade Greenwood, James McBride, Sophia Cabador, Eddie Vusic, Daniel Schmidt, Aarya Daware, Merric Gardner, Fareshta Karimi, Autumn Reihana, Rangi Kimibra, Hailey Chapman, Aidan Illig, Avani Singh, Sorei Soth, Elisa Karaim, Ava Harrison, Dean Krikas, Bonny Cortese, Callum Browning, Keya Dogra, Alessia Alifano, Adrian Fernandesz, Aadi Sachdeva, Mitchell Tharle, Lisa Lei, Keertan Vinu, Sarah Kis, William Zhang and Luis Herera—a lot of names there.

I wish I could describe, though, having read those names, the achievements and the contributions that these young students made. One of the reasons I initiated these awards is that we hear so much about what our young people do that is wrong. I wanted to celebrate in our community the contributions that young people make in their community that are right, and that often doesn’t get mentioned in the mainstream community papers. But we had a lot of support there from the school community—as I said, through 39 local schools. There was enormous pride from the parents, from the teachers and from the friends of the students that were nominated and honoured. It is an award that’s been going from strength to strength for 16 years. I’m very proud of our young people, and I hope that those whose names I just read into the Hansard remember this, because they will be remembered.

2018 Holt Australia Day Awards Speech – 8 Feb 2018

Feb 8, 2018

I wanted to rise tonight here in this place to talk about an exceptional group of people and organisations that I honoured on Australia Day as part of the 14th annual Holt Australia Day awards 2018. We honoured 27 outstanding individuals and seven local organisations for their contribution to the community at the 10th annual Day of the Nations celebrations in Hampton Park, which was organised by the Hampton Park Progress Association and supported by the City of Casey. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank the Holt Australia Day Awards Committee, which consisted of Chris Drysdale, Judy Owen, Leanne Petridis, Mladen Krsman and Ron Webb, for selecting the award recipients.

Australia Day, in my view, is a day where we can honour those that really do make this country a great place. When people ask me what it is to be an Australian, my first thought is that we live in a place of such breathtaking beauty and diversity, of arid deserts, of mountain ranges, of tropical forests and amazing coastline. I lived on the edge of the desert as a young man in Kalgoorlie for some seven years. Apart from the physical characteristics of Australia, what I think makes the country great is the characteristics of its people. I really do believe that we are an egalitarian country, committed to equality of opportunity and accepting all of those who come to this boundless country, asking only that these people share our values of tolerance, diversity and respect for community, its institutions and the rule of law. You could really say that citizens of this country are truly equal in the eyes of God, regardless of race, regardless of colour and regardless of beliefs. On that Day of the Nations on Australia Day, we celebrated those who I thought truly encapsulated what it means to be an Australian—those who believe in sacrifice, those who believe it is their duty to make a contribution for the better of the wider community.

We awarded some very exceptional people the Australia Day award. If I can read quickly into the record those whom we honoured: Aaron Grant, Carol Bosward and Sandra Rotunno, Casey Garba, Christopher Klepacz, Pastor Decal Nono, Ellie Blackburn, Elyse Cumine, Heather Triffett, Hispana Ventana—Spanish Window—Jean-Marie Jean-Pierre, John Cooper, John Foy, Josh and Eden Carell, Julie Cini, Karen Alsop, Pastor Keith Vethaak, Pastor Kerrigan La-Brooy, Lyn and Barry Leeds, Mary-Ann Spencer, the National Servicemen’s Association of Australia South East Sub Branch, Pastor Phil and Pastor Norma Cayzer, Cranbourne-Narre Warren Relay for Life, Ruth Croft, South East Melbourne Vietnamese Associations Council, Southern Masters Cycling Club, Star News Group, Sue Owen, Tammie McKill, Tareq Bakhtani and Zoe Panagiotopoulos.

Those names I’ve read into the parliamentary record are names of people and organisations that didn’t seek the limelight for the work that they did to make their community a better place. I think that is one of the other truly defining characteristics of the Australian character. Those who pull together for the common good, those who sacrifice for their community—even some of the recipients who fed the homeless out of their own funds, who decided to be a role model in what they chose to do so—didn’t do this in a way that sought publicity; they did it in a quiet, quintessentially Australian, understated way.

When we have a discussion about what it means to be an Australian, Australia Day is a good time to celebrate those people. You would notice I read a number of names of people that came from all walks of life and all corners of the globe. I really do believe that the diversity of this country is the strength of this country and that, as I said to those that attended the Australia Day awards honouring their achievements, this country’s best days are yet to come, and having people like these will ensure that this country reaches its great future.

Michael Gordon Condolence Motion Speech – 7 Feb 2018

Feb 7, 2018

I was just talking to the member for McMillan about this. The irony, if there can be irony about someone who was so beloved and that passed last Saturday, is so rich, as I said to a journalist on the day that this terrible tragedy occurred. I was talking about the fact that there was a book which I had borrowed, a book that was published in 1993, Paul Keating: A Question of Leadership, by Michael Gordon about Paul Keating. The opening chapter is about a guy called Dr Chris Higgins, who was a former Treasury official. It’s an incredibly powerful opening chapter. It explains the mindset of the then Treasurer before he gave the very famous Press Club speech.

In the first chapter, in the first couple of pages, he talks about an incredibly well-loved Treasury official who was 47 who competed in an event and then collapsed and died of a heart attack. It’s hard to precisely put my feelings into words when this book had such a powerful impact on me in deciding whether or not to pursue an active political career. The fact that that very first stanza talks about a beloved individual—and Keating was very moved by what had happened to Dr Higgins, and I think that powered a lot of his reaction and then the subsequent Press Club speech, the ‘Placido Domingo’ speech—gives Michael’s passing additional context as well.

Discussing it, for me personally, it’s like a chapter of your life closing. That’s how it felt when I got the news, sometime after Michael’s tragic passing, about Michael, because he’d been so much a part of the fabric of my political existence for such a long period of time. I didn’t know him deeply well as a person, as the member for McMillan did, quite clearly, but I knew him as a profoundly ethical, moral and deep-thinking journalist and someone who, when you thought about the reportage of the media and the direction that it takes, you would look at and say, ‘This guy is an example of what the best was in journalism.’ Michael really did represent journalism at its finest, in my view. He was independent. He was a critical thinker. He was a warm—I think that was powered by his personality—generous, decent human being. You could have disagreements with him but, you knew at the end of those glasses when you were having a conversation about life or politics or the events of the day, there was a deeply thoughtful, profoundly intelligent human being, and a really good person.

I think for journalists that now live in the ebb and flow of the journalistic environment, particularly the current crop of journalists, they should reflect closely about how parliament and parliamentarians have universally responded with grief about the loss of Michael. I think if some of them reflected—and this is no reflection on any journalist individually—on some journalists now, I wonder what sort of reaction there would be. That’s not to denigrate journalists that are here now, but Michael serves as a beacon, I think, for journalists. He serves in the proudest traditions of journalism. I think that in my dealings with him—and others will talk at far greater length than I about their dealings—you really knew what you said to the guy at the end of the phone or sitting across from you was going to be held in confidence, even if he disagreed with you.

If you read the biography of Keating, Michael’s not an uncritical assessor of the former Prime Minister and Treasurer. If you look, he breathed through the gift of how he used the English language. He breathed life into a story. You could really touch it. One of the great things, I think, about this book and the quality of his journalism was he breathed life into it. We can often be seen to be as acting as caricatures, as cartoon characters or as silhouettes. What Michael did for me in terms of Paul Keating was breathe life into him. He wasn’t just this saturnine figure; he was a living, breathing person. If you look at the tributes when he first wrote this book in 1993, his first iteration before Keating won the Prime Ministership in 1993, you have people like Laurie Oakes, Neville Wran, Janine Haines, John Button and Michelle Grattan singing his praises in terms of how he wrote this book.

I really do regret having to stand up here today because it’s a reminder of the ephemeral, transitory nature of our lives. It also reminds us that if there are people we haven’t spoken to—I saw that Michael had stepped aside and retired from The Age, and it was always one of those things where I thought he’s a really interesting person to catch up. I really would have wanted to talk to him. He’s one of those journalists that you wanted to. He had such depth and breadth as a human being. He was a real person, and the more I learn about him in his passing. I was watching him on Facebook—I was a Facebook friend—about the work he was doing in Africa. There was a living, breathing, decent human being you wanted to catch up with and have a coffee with. I hadn’t had a chance to extend my commiserations, from my perspective, about his leaving because I think the press gallery was the poorer for him retiring from The Age, but I never did. I was always going to. In fact, without making too much of a big deal, I thought that week before—you put it on your list of things to do: ‘I’ll give him a call’; I should have chased him up; I wanted to say I really missed him.

When I explained to him a number of years ago about how influential the book was, it was hard to get a copy so I chanced my arm. Joking about it I asked, ‘You wouldn’t have a copy?’ For weeks he went searching for a copy he’d had in his archive, and then he turned up one day and said, ‘I got a copy for you.’ No big deal, no great fuss, just the man, his normal humble self. He gave me the book—it’s a different iteration to this one—and he’d signed it, ‘To a true believer’. I’ve still got that, and I posted it on the day that I found that Michael had passed. It was just the way he did it; he didn’t have to do it and there was nothing in it for him but it was just a mark of the man, the calibre of the person. Like I said, the deepest regret I have is that I didn’t have the chance to tell him what I thought about him as a journalist, so I’m going to use the parliamentary record. Michael: you were an incredibly fine human being. You were the best of what journalists represent. I was incredibly sad to see that you had stepped away, stepped aside and retired. I was excited about the fact that you were going to have a new chapter of your life open, and I’m absolutely crushed that that hasn’t happened, and I think we are all the worse for it.

Statement on Indulgence: 50th Anniversary of the Disappearance of Harold Holt – 7 Dec 2017

Dec 7, 2017

For 18 years I have been representing a seat that is named after Prime Minister Holt. I was very generously invited by the Speaker to a luncheon held in his offices yesterday afternoon with Holt family members and the Hon. Peter Costello and his former press secretary Tony Eggleton. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it. I passed on my regards and condolences to them when I saw them on the floor of the chamber yesterday. I specifically wanted to mark the 50th anniversary of the loss of Prime Minister Holt, particularly given, as I said, I hold the seat named after him in this place today. This will be my last opportunity to do so in this manner before parliament rises.

Cheviot Beach is a very interesting place. I did reflect on the passing of Prime Minister Holt some number of years ago and decided to take the walk—it is in a national park—from Point Nepean around Portsea to the actual beach itself. Even on a calm day, you can see that it is a challenging place in which to swim, even for an experienced swimmer. On the day that I was there observing the place where the Prime Minister was taken, I found it to be a forbidding and challenging place in many ways; there was a lot of tumult and roiling of the water. When you read the Victoria Police and Federal Police report on the disappearance of Prime Minister Holt—which is challenging reading for anybody—you can see how dangerous the place was. It was like an encapsulation of the tumult of the times.

The other day I read a very good article by Tony Wright from The Age. When people reflect on the Prime Minister, they see that it was such a turbulent time. Some would say the period of time that we are in at present is turbulent. But that time was particularly turbulent in Australia, with the cultural eddies and flows that occurred as a consequence of the Vietnam War and the increasing public opposition to that war. There were so many societal and social changes that were occurring that Prime Minister Holt was part of. To some extent, the transition from former Prime Minister Menzies to Prime Minister Holt marked an epoch of change in Australia’s political and cultural history, very much leading, I think, to the elevation of Prime Minister Whitlam in 1972, after narrowly failing to win the 1969 election. If anybody opened the door for someone like Gough Whitlam, it was Prime Minister Holt.

When you read details of his political history, you see that he was a very young man when he entered politics. From reading biographies of, for example, Paul Keating, you see how young men were treated. In 1935, to be 27 when you were elected to parliament was phenomenally young. Twenty-seven is not so young to come into this place these days, but in those days, when the average age could well have been late 40s or early 50s, he was a very young man. He was obviously a man of great talent. To be promoted to the cabinet in 1939 on the doorstep of the Second World War at age 30 says a lot about his capabilities. He was elected deputy leader in 1956, and after the ’58 election he replaced Arthur Fadden as Treasurer.

The contribution that he made has significance for the constituency of Holt. According to the National Archives, when he was Minister for Immigration, between 1949 and 1956, he expanded the postwar immigration scheme and relaxed the White Australia policy for the first time. Forty-two per cent of people in my constituency speak a language other than English. I wonder what Harold Holt, if he were alive today, would make of that in a seat named after him, given he’d done so much in his work as Minister for Immigration, and as Prime Minister, to make something like that possible. We in Victoria often take for granted the magnificent multicultural fabric that makes up Melbourne and Victoria. I suspect that had Prime Minister Holt been alive today he would have had great satisfaction in seeing an outer suburban area, not far away from the Mornington Peninsula, with such incredible diversity and cultures from all over the world living in harmony.

The other thing I would refer to in particular is his role as Treasurer, when he oversaw the creation of decimal currency and the Australian dollar. I recall that that met with some resistance, particularly from Prime Minister Menzies, who wanted to call it the ‘royal’. As I said, he was such a pivotal figure in moving away from the Menzies era to a more progressive, open and enlightened Australia, part of that arc of trajectory in Australian political history from the Menzies era to the era of Gough and the substantial and profound social changes that happened. As I was saying, the gradual dismantling of the White Australia policy culminated in the 1967 referendum, so that the Commonwealth parliament was empowered to legislate for Indigenous people for the first time.

Others have spoken about the involvement in the Vietnam War. I would just note that these times were troublesome for Australian policymakers, who were reflecting on challenges in Asia and how they might impact on Australia. I would note, in relation to some of the comments that have been made about Prime Minister Holt, that it would have been a challenging set of circumstances for any Prime Minister at that period of time, with the pressures that he would have faced in making decisions about Australia’s role in the war in Vietnam. I make no comment about that.

It is a great tragedy that Harold Holt was lost at such a young age—59. I’m 55 at the moment, so he was only four years older than I am. We lost someone who was effectively still in the prime of his life and still had a great contribution to make to public life. To his family, particularly those who were here yesterday—his son Sam and Sam’s wife, Xenia, and his son Robert—to Tony Eggleton and in particular to Peter Costello, who was a friend of the family, I pass on my condolences and reassure them that on the anniversary of the passing of Prime Minister Holt we will certainly be making sure that the constituency remembers the person and the contribution he made to the seat that’s named after him.

Celebrating Local Champions in Holt Speech – 4 Dec 2017

Dec 4, 2017

In what is hopefully the last sitting week of the year, I wanted to mention some community champions and local achievers in my area. Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Zoe Panagiotopoulos from Provenance Artists, who painted a series of paintings as part of the 2015 Holt Anzac Centenary Fine Art Exhibition, of which a book was produced. It was very moving to meet with Zoe because two of her paintings—one called Somme Reverie and the other called God Speed—will be heading overseas this month to be part of the Sir John Monash Centre’s collection at Villers-Bretonneux in France. I felt very blessed that a grant that was auspiced under the Anzac Centenary grants program was able to produce two world-class paintings as part of this magnificent Holt Anzac Centenary Fine Art Exhibition and that the people of France will be able to see these particular paintings, as they are quite graphic and quite moving.

I would also like to point out that I joined with the Casey-Cardinia Library Corporation to launch the ‘Forgiving Tree’ initiative. This initiative delivers much needed help and support to local charities in the lead-up to Christmas. In its first year ever, the initiative of the library forgave book fines and other fees in exchange for a donation to the library’s Forgiving Tree. That initiative raised about $15,000 for local charities. Each of the seven libraries under the Casey-Cardinia Library Corporation banner chose a local charity to partner with and passed on the community donations for those struggling during the Christmas period. I was proud to support this initiative, which we launched at Bunjil Place. The member for La Trobe might speak about that later, I suspect. We encouraged all those in the south-eastern region to add a present under the tree whether they had a library fine or not.

Finally, I had the pleasure last Sunday week of attending the Berwick District Woodworkers Club’s toy gala, which was very good. The organisation was established in 1986. This amazing group of about 100 people crafted more than 850 toys which they presented to local charities on that Sunday. This is an incredible group of people who donate their time. Some of the craftsmanship of the toys, as the member for La Trobe would know, is incredible. There was a rocking horse that I was actually walked up to see. You would value that rocking horse on the market at $5,000. It was donated to charity. I met with the individual who crafted that rocking horse from 300 hours of his own work. That’s just one example of the incredible work that’s done by the Berwick District Woodworkers Club.

I just wanted to mention those three incredible initiatives by local community champions who should be honoured in the lead-up to this Christmas period.

Australian Federal Police Bravery Awards Speech – 23 Oct 2017

Oct 23, 2017

I would like to draw the attention of this place to an Australian Federal Police bravery award awarded to two counterterrorism officers targeted in a frenzied attack by teenage jihadist Numan Haider on 23 September 2014. The officers, whose identities have to be suppressed, were recognised last week with the AFP bravery awards, almost three years after they almost died in the attack.

I want to talk about how it affected the particular officers in a second. But I wanted to draw to the attention of this place that the Coroner’s Court of Victoria finding hailed the actions of both officers. Undisputed evidence to the court found Officer B almost certainly would have been killed, and possibly decapitated, had it not been for the actions of Officer A, who killed Haider with a single bullet to the head in order to save his colleague. An internal AFP memo confirmed Sergeant A had displayed conspicuous bravery at Endeavour Hills, Victoria, on 23 September 2014, where, despite having been seriously wounded as a result of a sustained knife attack, he saved the life of an AFP member. The memo said, ‘Federal Agent B, for displaying conspicuous bravery at the Endeavour Hills Police Station in Victoria, on 23 September, where he was seriously wounded as a result of a sustained knife attack’. Officer B said he got through it with the support of friends, family and colleagues, as well as the support of the Australian public.

Three years have passed. This was Officer B talking to the Weekend Australian about the after-effects of what happened on that very dark evening:

‘It’s etched into your mind, my kids’ faces in the hospital. I remember just as if it was yesterday,’ he said. ‘Things come back to you … you still get upset. It sort of never leaves you … it will always be there and you’re always reminded daily by the scars.’

It’s funny when we have a discussion about counterterrorism in this place. Sometimes I think these two officers think that they might have been forgotten. I know these two officers, and I know them extremely well. I know that, in particular, Officer A, who discharged his weapon, still experiences some challenges, as does Officer B. So, even though we have an article in the Weekend Australian, the nature of the AFP bravery awards is that they’ll be held in secret, because, if the names of these two gentlemen were known, they would be targeted; they would be killed.

So I would like to say to those two officers in particular, who believe sometimes that perhaps the public have forgotten the sacrifices they made on that night: ‘This parliament hasn’t forgotten. We honour what you did and were subjected to on that night, and we will not forget you or your families, regardless of how much time has elapsed.’


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