Valedictory speech to the House of Representatives

Mollit anim id est laborum

Mr HOCKEY (North Sydney) (11:04): When I first spoke in this chamber on 10 September 1996, my very first words were:

I am in Canberra today because I want to make a contribution to the future of Australia.

I believe I have made a contribution to the future of this nation. I would like to begin by thanking the people of my electorate of North Sydney for giving me the honour, the opportunity and the privilege of representing them in this great chamber. We have walked a successful journey together and I appreciate the enormous effort many locals made in helping me along the way. I have prepared a report card to my constituents to let them know what I have done for the last 20 years, and I seek leave to table that and make it available to my entire electorate.

The SPEAKER: We will assume leave is granted.

Mr HOCKEY: I am not so conceited as to believe that I could have taken a seat in this chamber without the fulsome support of my beloved Liberal Party. In particular, I want to thank Robert Orrell for his outstanding commitment to help me from the first day of my career. He and my federal electorate conference have given me unqualified support through seven elections. Their advocacy and wise counsel have sustained me through the darkest of days. Other liberals who have gone on to bigger and better things have been great mates along the way, including the Treasurer of New South Wales, Gladys Berejiklian, who is here today. I am very proud of you all.

Like all members of this place, my electorate office has coped admirably with the slings and arrows of local challenges and national expectations. I particularly want to thank Leona Sierakowski for her efforts. Of course, without volunteers our offices’ would never be able to meet the demand. I have had volunteers aged from 12 to 94, and the 94-year-old was the most enthusiastic. In particular, there is barely a day that passes when I do not think about my second mum, the late Barb Elliott. With Erica Wylie, Sirenne and Nat Gould, Dick White, Bill Tafe and Pamela McLeland, I have been blessed with unwavering loyalty. My personal staff over 17½ years on the front bench have been outstanding. I admire them all. As Treasurer in particular, there was Grant Lovett, who is here today. He is one of the smartest and most selfless people I have ever met. Alistair Campbell, my ‘boy wonder’, is over there. Many of my colleagues know who he is. He will one day reshape the world for the better. Angela Scirpo and Jacquie Parker have worked with me in a personal capacity for over 21 years as my PAs and they are honorary members of my family.

I particularly want to thank all of you, the members of this great House, and the senators who have come along today, for the enormous effort you put in every single day to serve the Australian people. Most people leave this parliament as a result of defeat, death, disillusionment or disgrace: we all have to work harder to leave with dignity. There are plenty of Australians who are critical of the politicians they have never met. Our jobs have become much more challenging over the years with the advent of a ‘need it now’ culture, which has been backed by the unending and often unreasonable demands of social media. Yes, the 24-hour news cycle has changed politics forever, but I am not sure that the traditional Westminster system has kept pace with that change. It is now far more difficult to examine and debate policy issues in a measured and considered way.

Of course, one of the things that sustains us all in this place is the friendships we make, and I have mostly met very honourable people in this place. To all of my colleagues, thank you for making me laugh, and, on a couple of occasions, making me cry. You have stirred me to great anger, but equally we have all shared many laughs. Above all else you have made me very proud to be an Australian.

In particular, to my long-term Canberra flatmates—Jamie Briggs, Brendan Nelson, who is here, and Bob Baldwin—you have seen more of me than many would care to see! I can now confess that our happiest moments were sitting at home late at night eating Paddle Pops, watching Jerry Springer, and admiring the latest Nickelback album—in my case, alone!

Ladies and gentlemen, if everyday Australians are to be their best then we as community leaders must be even better. That is why the revolving door in Australian politics must be jammed shut. If we do not show enough respect to each other, then how can we hope that the electorate will respect us. The stability of the Howard government has been replaced with rapid and unpredictable changes of government on both sides. That turnover has dramatically weakened the policy hand of whoever occupies the government benches in this chamber. Most public servants are very good, but some, confused by the inconsistency of policy and the rapid change in the number of ministers, will simply wait out a minister or a government when they are asked to implement very difficult decisions. And in this parliament the Senate has the capacity to turn every policy proposal into a bit of a mess, thus undermining public confidence in the process of government.

Ultimately, this chamber can end up being responsible for its own undoing. We cannot make it normal to have four Prime Ministers and four Treasurers in just four years. Leadership instability and ministerial turnover are the enemy of good public policy. It was a great honour to serve as a minister in a number of Howard government ministries. It was an even greater honour to serve as Treasurer in the Abbott government.

Tony Abbott, who sadly is overseas today, is one of the most selfless, hard-working and honourable people I have ever met. Yes, at times we have clashed, I confess. For more than 30 years we have argued our differences on everything from the republic to budget savings. But I say directly to the Australian people that the real Tony Abbott is more of a good and decent man than you may know.

The Abbott government was good at policy but struggled with politics. When faced with a choice, I would always prefer what was right than what was popular. On the economy and job creation, national security, border protection, taxation, climate change, immigration and federal-state relations, I believe we got the policies right. However, I admit that we could have done more to win over third-party endorsements and to win over the Senate. And we could have done more to win over the Australian people. We tried to achieve a lot in a short period of time. Whilst we were dealing with significant domestic policy challenges in health, welfare and education, we underestimated the massive time requirements associated with national security and chairing the G20. Nothing illustrated this better than the 2014 budget, where the government had more courage than the parliament.

As my good mate the outstanding Minister for Finance, Senator Matthias Cormann, will tell you, it is easier to spend money than to save money. Unfortunately, in modern politics it is far easier to demolish good policy proposals than to build and implement them.

In this place we all know that it will only be our family and very close friends who will push our wheelchairs around as we grow old. My closest mate, Andrew Burnes, has been a tower of support for me, through thick and thin. My family, both the Hockeys, that I was born into, and the Babbages, that I married into, have provided much love and unconditional support. My parents taught me values, and for that I am forever grateful. I hope I have made them proud. My brothers, who are here, and my sister shared that journey. I grew up in a house full of integrity. There was no back door you could sneak out of with a temporary leave pass to be disloyal or dishonest for just a few days. Growing up in a small business family I learnt that rewards will come as a result of hard work and innovation. In particular, you should never, ever put your honesty or your integrity up for sale. I was taught by the Jesuits that it is better to serve than be served—to be a man for others. It would have been impossible for me to serve in this place without the support of my wife, Melissa, and our children. Last Monday was Iggy’s 6th birthday, and I have missed every single one of his birthdays. I won’t miss another one.

On the day I got married I officially joined the ‘men who bat above their weight’ club—and I was heavier then! For more than 20 years, Melissa has earnt the majority of the income, paid the bills, paid the mortgage, given birth to our children, and raised the family. I suppose she is probably asking, ‘Why did I bother?’!

She ran a global business and suffered my long absences from home. My wife, like all of your wives, husbands and partners, was a conscript to politics—I was the volunteer—yet her counsel has been wise and her loyalty has been fierce. She shares my values and well exceeds my capacities. I am so pleased for our children, Xavier, Adelaide and Iggy, that their mother’s DNA has been dominant over mine! It has been the greatest advantage for them in life to have a mother who is simply the most impressive person I have ever met.

Of course, the greatest achievement of a parent is to leave the next generation better off. The best measurement of political success is to look around you and see that you have made a positive difference. ‘Si monumentum requiris, circumspice’—which is Latin, meaning: ‘If you are looking for a monument, look around you.’ I have always subscribed to the view that, no matter what, I want my successors to succeed. I want them to be better than me. I want the Turnbull government to succeed. I genuinely want you, Malcolm, and all of my colleagues to be very successful—to be the best government Australia has ever had—because I owe that to my community and I owe that to my children.

All my life, I have subscribed to the principles of modern liberalism. In my maiden speech, I defined them as protection of individual rights, defence of parliamentary democracy, a commitment to positive reform and equality of opportunity. It is true, but it must be said: if you do not have core beliefs, then you have no core. When you are asked to make very difficult decisions that have a huge impact on people’s lives, without a guiding philosophy you will inevitably be indecisive or, worse, inconsistent.

In the darkest days of opposition, I delivered a number of speeches that encapsulated my values. They focused on issues as diverse as faith, liberty, youth, opportunity, enterprise and, the most controversial of all, entitlement. Finding the solutions to the social challenges and the financial threats of today cannot be postponed to another time; it cannot be left to another generation. Intergenerational theft and betrayal is not the Australian way. Because we are running deficits and borrowing money, our lifestyle today is being paid for by our children and the generations beyond. I challenge all and sundry to name a speech in the last 20 years that has influenced the national debate in the way that the End of the Age of Entitlement speech did. I gave it in opposition to a group of just 40 people in London, including quite a few Tory MPs. No media were present. Yet the speech had an impact in a number of different countries. From opposition, it gave the Labor Party in government a leave pass to start to wind back unfair welfare entitlements. When we came to government, if we had not begun by ending the age of entitlement for business, there would have been no free trade agreements because the cost to the nation would have been too great. They are outstanding agreements, but they had been earned. We did not write out billions of dollars of taxpayer funded cheques to Toyota, Holden, Qantas or Coca-Cola Amatil because we could not justify taking money off the local butcher or the local plumber or the local farmer so that a profitable big business could be even more profitable.

And we began ending the age of entitlement in welfare by abolishing seven different payments and means-testing three others—but there is still a long way to go. It is unconscionable in 2015 to have non-means-tested welfare. How someone in the top one per cent of income earners can still qualify to receive welfare payments, free health care or free education is beyond me. When Iggy broke his leg last Christmas, the total cost for us was just $35 to cover the cost of a waterproof leg cast; otherwise everything was deemed free. But, in truth, it was not free. We borrow billions of dollars to pay for the health and hospital system, and he and his generation are going to end up paying for it. I see that as unsustainable. It is unfair and I will not be party to a generation that passes the buck. What we have to do is live within our means. We need co-payments in health, greater cost recovery in education and universal means testing in welfare so that we have a sustainable and affordable social safety net for those most vulnerable in the community.

Of course, the easiest way to achieve these reforms is for bipartisan agreement to be reached. I am pleased that there is some agreement coming through now. It is possible because, I think, we all genuinely care for the elderly, the sick, the poor and the disadvantaged, but the only way for future generations to be able to pay for compassion is to end the age of entitlement.

Earlier this year, I released the Intergenerational report, which detailed the challenges and opportunities that Australia’s ageing population brings. Living longer is something we should all celebrate, but it requires careful economic planning. We must prepare for change and not squander it. Some experts have observed that babies born today could live to 150, meaning the challenge is even greater than what we are currently planning for—so we have to think ahead. Consider this: unless we change the retirement age to 70 by 2035 and then index it to longevity, by the middle of this century some Australians will be spending the majority of their lives in retirement. Both our superannuation system and our age pension entitlements must be calibrated for our changing demographics. We need a comprehensive and bipartisan review, followed by action in this area.

And we need the infrastructure to support the change in demographics. Over the last 20 years, mobile phones, coupled with better, more affordable broadband, have been a technology and lifestyle game changer. Over the next 20 years, battery technology, energy efficient technology and driverless cars will be revolutionary. Unless we build the infrastructure now that facilitates the future, rather than languish with infrastructure that impedes the future, we will fail our children.

I want to pay tribute—at some risk to my safety in getting out of this building!—to the previous, Labor, government for initiating the National Broadband Network. It was not fully paid for, and the Prime Minister did a great job repairing it, but it was a very significant commitment. My Asset Recycling Fund and the record infrastructure funding in the 2014 and 2015 budgets will make a big difference. The Medical Research Future Fund is my single proudest achievement. It will dramatically change the lives of Australians and people around the world forever.

But of course we need to pay our way for this new social and economic infrastructure. For 20 years I have joined with the member for Grayndler in fighting for Badgerys Creek airport, and at long last it seems to be happening. But it will only truly happen if it is fully funded. As Treasurer I started work on this and had policy approval for a levy on traffic movements at Kingsford Smith Airport. That locked in the funding for a fair dinkum Badgerys Creek airport and fast-tracked transport services to Western Sydney to match. I sincerely hope it goes ahead.

Our soft infrastructure is crucial as well. The financial system inquiry that I initiated ensures that we have the best financial system in the world. I am very proud of it and I am very pleased that the Turnbull government has embraced it. The competition policy inquiry that I initiated in opposition, which had the support of the indefatigable Bruce Billson, member for Dunkley, is a positive new direction for commerce in Australia. We are the only government that had the courage to introduce the most significant changes to our foreign investment regime in 40 years. I make no apologies for being the first Treasurer to have the courage to properly enforce the divestment powers in the act. But ultimately, if we want to be more innovative and competitive, we must have an industrial relations system that is contemporary and a tax system that is fair.

John Howard always loved giving me the easy jobs, so I was very enthusiastic when he gave me responsibility for Work Choices—I relished the chance! Yes, Work Choices did go a little too far, and the fairness test was too late. But I am afraid Labor went too far the other way, and we have a structural imbalance in our workplace relations system that costs Australians jobs—and better-paying jobs at that. The current structure of penalty rates is profit murder for small business, particularly if they are competing on a digital platform. It also drives consumers to buy their goods offshore.

Our taxation system needs reform for the 21st-century economy. Integrity is crucial for that, and through our leadership of the G20 we hardened the resolve of major economies to address base erosion and profit shifting. In the 2015 budget I released legislation that goes after profit shifting by multinationals with what would now be regarded as the strongest laws in the world. I also managed to carry the states—no mean feat; sorry, Gladys!—on GST reform that ensures that our offshore suppliers charge the GST and are not disadvantaging Australian based businesses. Integrity is hugely important, but the best way to get compliance is to have lower, simpler and fairer taxes, and we started that process by abolishing seven taxes and fixing 96 other tax problems. But the reform had to go further, and through a comprehensive review of the tax system I endeavoured—and failed—to keep all options on the table.

We must increase and, over time, broaden the GST. We must lower all income taxes so that people and companies are given more incentive to take risks and receive rewards. But at a minimum we should aim for a 40-20-20 rule: a 40 per cent top personal tax rate at a much higher threshold, a 20 per cent tax rate for most taxpayers and a 20 per cent tax rate for businesses. We should be wiser and more consistent on tax concessions to help pay for that. In particular, tax concessions on superannuation should be carefully pared back. In that framework, negative gearing should be skewed towards new housing so that there is an incentive to add to the housing stock rather than an incentive to speculate on existing property.

And we should never, ever forget small business. The 2015 budget was the best ever budget for small business. It was all about tax cuts, not more government spending. The $20,000 instant asset write-off was a game changer for Australian small business. The budget also gave more farmers more choices. It gave them an opportunity to have a go. It gave northern Australia an opportunity to have a go. And it gave families the chance, through better child care, to have a go. The 2015 budget aimed to fire up ambition for everyday Australians. On the back of that I really welcome the Turnbull government’s commitment to facilitate new innovation policy. It will be a key contribution to our economic future.

In the House over 100 years ago former Prime Minister George Reid defined our Australian values better than anyone I have ever heard. He said:

There is no country in the world where the people are less paralysed by reverence to the past. There are no people in the world who have fewer fears for the future.

We should encourage Australians to be their best, to achieve what they can and share the rewards as they choose. As a nation, as a parliament, we must continue to be ambitious and bold. So I say to this House, as I say to my own children, seated here in this chamber: ‘It is far better to dream mighty things, to seek glorious triumphs even though chequered by failure, than to be amongst those poor souls who neither suffer much nor enjoy much because they live in the great twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.’