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Valedictory Speech

On 18 May 1974, the electors of Mitchell returned a Liberal for the first time for many years. 34 years later Mr Alan Cadman makes a Valedictory Speech in the House of Representatives

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (11.57 a.m.)—I wish to thank the previous speaker for his speech, not necessarily for the way in which he dealt with history but for his contribution to Australia. I believe history will treat him kindly because, as a Leader of the Opposition, he has made a magnificent contribution to Australia by his personal attitudes and values. I trust the current Leader of the Opposition will continue to make the same contribution in the next parliament.

On 18 May 1974, the electors of Mitchell returned a Liberal for the first time for many years. At that time there were high interest rates, people were having difficulty paying their mortgages and there was stress on families. The Australian Labor Party had established a pattern which was to continue for the next 18 months of government: high interest rates and pressure on families. It is amazing how successive Labor parties have the same impact on the community and on Australian families—the impact of high interest rates. It was replicated by the Hawke-Keating government. Part of the problem is that there is a failure to really understand the workplace, business and families, so the intellectual input to the Australian Labor Party is so narrow that they have difficulty in maintaining close contact and a sense of realism with the world.

I was delighted to make my maiden speech shortly after my arrival, as all members do. As a boy who was basically off the farm but who was also involved in a number of industry organisations and who was familiar with politicians, I found that I was warmly received by my colleagues, to the extent that Kevin Cairns, who was then the member for Lilley, came to me after the speech, congratulated me and said that he did not know the reason but one of the journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald was intensely interested in my speech and would like to interview me. I asked where I could find this man. He said: ‘If you go up to the Press Gallery’—this was in the old House—’which is way up the back there somewhere, I am sure you will find him; he is anxious to interview you.’ I struggled to find my way through the labyrinth of the Old Parliament House and found the journalist that Kevin had referred me to. When I approached him he said, ‘Who are you?’ I explained why I thought he wanted to see me, and he said, ‘No, somebody has been pulling your leg; go back and learn your job.’ That was my introduction to the Liberal Party and my colleagues in this place.

It is an absolute privilege to serve in this parliament. Before coming here, when listening to the radio and to the speeches people made, I formed an opinion of their ability. I often formed a poor opinion, dependent on their capacity to express themselves. But when I arrived here I found that even those who expressed themselves poorly in this place had a great ability and a unique individual capacity to make a contribution to the nation. Nobody in this parliament gets here if they are half-baked, nobody gets here if they do not have a contribution to make and nobody gets here unless they are worth listening to—in any seat in the Australian parliament.

My first lesson was to learn respect for the opinions of my colleagues. We all learn discipline and hard work and we learn to manage our personal affairs, our families and our interests outside this place—and they need to take second place. How you do that if you are a family person can be quite difficult. I remember trying to administer discipline by telephone to three teenage boys, which finished upon my arrival back on a Thursday night or, more often in those days, Friday morning because we used to sit late and could not get back to Sydney. I would get back on Friday morning and Judy would present me with a long list of the discipline that needed to be administered to our three boys. The impact on them was, ‘Dad’s home; dive for cover.’ That was not very healthy. It started to build tensions in our family and I had to take strong steps to overcome it. So we built a boat. We bought a little sailing boat kit and spent the Christmas holidays talking to each other and building something we had never done before. When we launched this craft and it floated, the boys talked with some of the onlookers—there were a few spectators watching our efforts—and they asked, ‘Where did you learn to sail?’ The boys proudly replied, ‘Dad’s learnt it out of a book.’ But we did sail and we entered state competitions and things like that. That started to build links between family members, and they have been maintained. But it can be a very dangerous time.

The variety of backgrounds of members who come to this place lends it colour. It is unfortunate that, as I have observed over the years, there has been a narrowing of occupations, particularly on the opposition benches. I say to my colleagues and coalition benchers: if we narrow the pool of human resources coming to this place as elected members we will suffer for it, because every person, no matter what their background or the variety of their experience, brings some part of Australia with them. To have that wealth of knowledge and experience to draw upon makes for a very important contribution. The grey experience of life working for a member of parliament or in the union movement, or perhaps even in an industrial organisation, is far from real life and contributions can be limited by that. I will continue at all times to encourage people with a wide range of interests to become involved in politics and to make a contribution. There are many ways they can do that. We need to be experts in Australia, not in a particular issue. We need to know about Australia and Australians. That is where we need to excel. We need to know their aspirations, the way they think and feel and we need to inform ourselves in detail on particular aspects of life.

In my early days here, the two people that I dealt with most were two wonderful men: Sir Robert Cotton and Sir John Carrick. They were wonderful mentors, great senators and great Australians. One was a prisoner of war from Changi; the other was a pilot and well-known war hero. They were just so helpful to new arrivals. They set so much of the attitudes that we need to remember in the Liberal Party, particularly in New South Wales. Eight years of learning in government followed 18 months of opposition. Those eight years of learning involved me having contact with people in the Prime Minister’s department like Alexander Downer, Petro Georgiou and Alan Jones, who all worked there. We spent time together and endeavoured to take that government into perhaps a more adventurous and bold period of expression than we were able to achieve. It was a formative time. That was followed by 13 years of painful, debilitating opposition. Stop laughing, Laurie! Laurie enjoyed a period of government whereas we on the opposition benches really found that at times people just despaired of us. Then we did things that were unbelievable, like losing the absolutely winnable election, and people paid us out for losing opportunities. I remember the wonderful contributions made by federal directors of the Liberal Party—Tony Eggleton, Andrew Robb, Linton Crosby, Brian Loughnane and many others. They have been wonderful servants of the party—a great support with great knowledge and wisdom.

The policy work that went on in opposition was really significant. I found that particularly challenging but also stimulating. Of course, in so much of the policy development, John Howard led the way. But there are others here—Bronwyn is one—and not here. John Hewson played a part, as did Alexander Downer, Chris Miles and Tim Fischer. They all played a wonderful part in developing the ideas that are now being put into place for this current government. That period of rigorous discussion and refinement was an absolutely essential part of becoming a successful government. We are blessed as a nation with certainly the best Prime Minister Australia has seen and an excellent team of support, each individual worthy of the position they hold. This is a period that needs, for the sake of Australia, to continue, and we must make sure that it does.

In government, my job was first as Chief Government Whip. I tried to be a hard whip—and I think I was—because I knew that, if we were going to sit a long period in government, we had to be really disciplined. We could not have slack ideas at the start, because it is really hard to bring in more rigour, to regenerate and to focus into a disciplined future, after you have had a slack period. I see my friend and colleague Stewart McArthur smiling, because he has shared so much of it with me. Perhaps at times people thought of me as a tyrant and as unnecessarily picky about things, but I meant to do that and I have never apologised for it, because I thought it was for the benefit of our team. We needed to sow, at that time, attitudes and commitments that we would carry forward for many years. I am thankful that we have basically been able to do that.

There were great fighters and campaigners in that first parliament. It was the largest number of people any government had ever had in its ranks, and that took some management because there were people like Gary Hardgrave. When I was trying to find him at one stage, I phoned him. He had not had his poll declared at that point but he was down here in Parliament House trying to find his office. None of it had been set; nothing had been decided by the Speaker—we did not even have a Speaker. We did not have any way of finding out who was going to have what office, but Hardgrave was down here. He was so confident of winning that election that he was down here looking around for his office. That is what they have all been like: a really challenging and exciting group of people to be with.

Looking around the world, I see that MPs in Australia are far more accountable to the public than MPs anywhere else are. If you look at the UK or the USA, they do not have to front their constituents as frequently as we do ours. They do not have to be accountable face to face, day to day. They do at branch meetings, for sure, but there is also the general public. Our colleagues in other countries seem to be able to escape that accountability to a greater degree than we can, and I think that makes us a unique group of people. It makes the discussion and the debate more fruity, more genuine and closer to the needs of people.

During the period in government, it was great to work with Peter Reith, to develop franchise legislation and to work on the issue of unconscionable conduct in the Trade Practices Act, always looking for things that are important for small business. More time for business was a report that we tried to use as the basis for cutting the paperwork in small business. I think the more we cut it, the more Treasury seemed to load in at the other end at times, but I am not quite sure. I never did a count, but I had a feeling that Treasury were working on the other end of things at times. It made points of discussion between Peter Reith’s office and the Treasurer’s office.

I have been involved in parliamentary reports that I think have been important. There was the stem cells report. Even though Kevin Andrews and some Labor Party members were reluctant to get into that, I felt a national framework was necessary, otherwise we would have states all over Australia doing all sorts of different things. Rather than becoming involved in the detail of research, setting a framework was an important thing for us to do as a parliament. I was disappointed that my side of the argument was lost, of course, but we have a national framework. That is more significant, perhaps, than having no framework at all.

I was involved in inquiries on the Family Law Act and in the two inquiries on drugs. Family tax is an issue that I think we still need to deal with, I have to say. The policeman and the hairdresser are among the groups in our society who, with children, start to feel the pressure of home and work. In many families, that is the flashpoint of disagreement, argument and perhaps separation at times, because it is so hard to be paying off a house and managing family affairs if you have an inflexible workplace, if you cannot manage child care and if you have no relatives.

I represent one of the fastest growing parts of Australia. People are desperate to pay off their very expensive homes, one-third of the cost of which is due to state taxes rather than the cost of the land or the building itself. I think that is absolutely abysmal. It is deplorable that state governments should be so avaricious of young people and young families in that way.

To be able to deal with the arrangements people make in their homes I think we need to look at the family tax situation, taking into account the cost of child care and the sort of child care people may choose. My view is that we ought to trust families to make the best choice that suits them and, in fact, back families rather than backing childcare centres. So instead of doing what we have done with schools funding—we tend to back institutions rather than individuals—I think that in child care we can go closer to the family and, on the number of children under the age of five, support families to make the best decisions for the child care they need.

In the Press Gallery there are many people who may have one or two days formal child care but then depend on relatives or close friends for the rest of the week. It is very expensive to pay for formal child care. The going rate some months ago was $53 a day. It is more than that now. In capital cities it is massively more than that. People cannot afford to pay that and expect to gain any benefit from working except for the pleasure of turning up every day, in many instances. Sometimes maintaining your skills is impossible except by working full time. But there should be some remuneration as well.

I have enjoyed the Australian Political Exchange Program. I have been a member of the Australian Political Exchange Committee right from the beginning. To have a program whereby young people in politics and with a future in their party exchange with people from other countries to get to know the politicians in those other countries has been, I think, very constructive and useful over the 25 years that it has been running. Sir Robert Cotton started this process when he was Ambassador to the United States, and it has continued since. It has been a real pleasure for me to get agreements signed, firstly, with Japan and then Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Korea. We are looking to add India. India is a growth area. As working politicians, we need to relate to Indian politicians. We need to understand their system. We need to be able to pick up the phone and talk to significant people in India, as we can do with people in the US and in other parts of the world whom we have relationships with. But we do not have that with India yet.

I am also very thankful to the Housing Industry Association for my involvement in the Sir Phillip Lynch Award for Excellence. This award is given every year to the most excellent builder or person involved in the housing industry. That has been wonderful, and I thank Dr Ron Silberberg.

I think the challenges of the future are these. The clashes in this place are really between those people who think that the marketplace may solve the problems and those people who think that it needs to have some rules. It is a value-free versus value sort of scenario. This relates to issues such as drugs, film and television, and family law. These things can tear us apart when we have to make conscience decisions about them and try to work out what is best. I know they are difficult, but those are the challenges.

The clash between capital and labour is no longer significant because everybody works now. There is no person in Australia who does not work. There is a clash of values when it comes to issues such as: let us not decriminalise, but let us have detox instead; let us not say that the kids are okay, but let us say we care about kids. I think we should look after those things in that way, because it is the children who are most affected by these philosophies.

The life issues of euthanasia, stem cell research and late-term abortion are all issues that are very critical for this parliament to look into. I find the matter of Islam extremely challenging. We need to build the bonds across the parliament to deal with these issues. Bonds occur informally, but we need to know each other well enough to form the links that are necessary from time to time to get good results on these issues for the nation. The built and the natural environment is another issue that concerns me.

I must conclude by thanking my family, without whom I would not be in this place. All my options are open at the moment. I am looking forward to the future; but, more than anything else, I am looking forward to the safe return to this place of a Howard government.

Mr Speaker, if I may take a few seconds more, I want to thank the officers of the parliament who help us every day. Every one of them is courteous and helpful. I also want to thank my staff—many of them are listening. They have been wonderful, and without them we could not do our work.

Debate (on motion by Ms King) adjourned.

Mr CADMAN (Mitchell) (1.22 p.m.)—I seek leave to have certain words incorporated into Hansard.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows—

The built environment is critical for the long-term physical and mental health of our community. Crammed conditions with little space for children to play impinge on family disputes. It also ensures that obesity is an ever present concern. Poor eating and exercise habits developed early can cost the Commonwealth a bundle in later years as can all poor designing practices. State Governments refuse to carry the responsibility for the environments they create and this is a future role for the Commonwealth. In foreign relations our close neighbours particularly Papua New Guinea are of significance. When I was first elected the focus was on Europe and the USA. Now it is the Pacific Rim and the Middle East. We must build close bonds with our neighbours and intensify our friendly relationships.

I also wish to thank Comcar drivers, our transport officers and all who make it easier to efficiently fulfil our duties. The local Liberal Party; I want to thank everyone of those members who have been such wonderful help and support to me and in particular leaders of the Mitchell Federal Electoral Conference, Fred Caterson, Harold Cottee, Michael Richardson and Bernie Moriarty. They have been good friends, mentors and leaders. I wish to thank past staff members, and there have been many, but especially Beryl Gaydoul, Lois Davis, Betty Ingles, Joan Andrews, Roberta Bell, Geraldine Rath and Michael Paag. My current staff are wonderful and I thank Jan Cox, Ronie Quinn, Kath Knox and part-timers Wayne Hampson and Roberta Bell. My Western Sydney colleagues Jackie Kelly, Pat Farmer, Kerry Bartlett and Louise Markus are wonderful friends and colleagues. They are a terrific team to work with. I want to also thank those people who have been involved in the Mitchell Youth Leadership Forum and the Hills Initiative or Excellence, two outstanding features of community activity in the electorate.

Debate adjourned.

Author: Alan Cadman MP
Source: House Hansard
Release Date: 20 Sep 2007


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