Thursday, 2 December 2021
Mr HUNT (Flinders—Minister for Health and Aged Care) (15:17): on indulgence—I hope not to detain the House for too long. Well, it’s been a slightly busy term! When I think back to the fear and the concern of this House and this country in February and March last year, and I look at that which has occurred around the world and the lives that have been saved here by comparison, I’m so proud of this government, of this parliament and of this nation, and all the things that have been done to save lives and protect lives. I’m confident that, in the systems that are in place of the Chief Medical Officer and the Department of Health, the National Security Committee, the National Incident Centre and the national cabinet, and in the leadership of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer providing the guiding way, the country is well prepared for the future. There will be challenges, but we are well prepared for that future. To have in some small way stood beside them at the time they made the biggest of decisions, and to have hopefully helped, has been an immense privilege.
But for all the time that we have spent together, and as fond as I am of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, my heart is ultimately elsewhere—sorry, Josh! It is with my family. My amazing wife, Paula, who is in the gallery today, is a nurse, carer, counsellor and confidante. But perhaps above all else she’s raised two beautiful children largely as a single mother. I am so immensely proud of Poppy, who is going into year 11, and of James, who is about to go into senior school. They’re both getting awards this week, and, again, I’m not there. On Sunday they looked at me and said: ‘Dad, this is your last chance to be a proper dad. It’s time to come home, Dad.’ So, earlier today, I spoke with the Prime Minister and my electorate chairman, and I informed them that I would not be contesting the next election. This may come as a surprise to some of you, for the reason that the very ideas and structures that brought me into this place are still the things that I love and believe in. For the great Liberal Party—from Menzies’s ‘forgotten people’ to Howard’s ‘battlers’ to Scott Morrison’s ‘quiet Australians’— the golden thread which has run through the life of this party has been the simple belief that it’s our task to try to give every Australian the best chance at the life of their choice. I would never be here but for the gift of the party. I want to thank my electorate chair, Peter Rawlings—the extraordinary Peter Rawlings—and his predecessor, Julie Heron, and all of our party members, like Charles and Marshall, who’ve been in the same roles for 20 years.
I’m very confident in the future of our local party. I think it is time, subject to the will of the local branch members, for a strong, brilliant woman to be the Liberal candidate for Flinders. And I’m very confident about the future of this great party in this coalition. I look at the incredible talent on the back bench, the middle bench and the front bench, and I know that in the leadership of the Prime Minister we see someone where the bigger the issue, the clearer he knows the way. That’s it. I think that’s because he understands Australians, and he trusts Australians.
As much as I love the Liberal Party, I love this place more. My father said of the parliament: ‘Honour the parliament. Be a parliamentarian before a politician.’ This week I have seen this parliament at its absolute highest, with the passage of Maeve’s law: government and opposition and crossbench working together for both the yes and the no case, and the yes and the no case working together for the dignity of the parliament.
That reminds me of a second rule which I’ve learnt along the way: always turn your back from the cameras when you’re putting your mask on! My staff taught me that—a little late! But none of us would be anything without our staff, and I want to thank the incredible staff—from all of us to all of them, but, particularly, from me to my staff. They have kept Australia safe, and they have worked throughout night and day during the course of this pandemic and throughout the last 20 years. I can’t name all of them, but I do want to note there are six who have served for a decade: Lynne Strahan, Sarah Meredith, Tina McGuffy, Denise Garnock, Lisa Burgess and the incredible Wendy Black, who has been chief of staff for a decade. But there’s a seventh. I want to acknowledge Joanne Tester as well, who, along with Wendy, has been the unrelenting and extraordinary joint chief of staff during the course of this term. You get double points for a pandemic, Jo!
But there is one more thing. The highest of all honours is the simplest. We are all representatives, and I have been graced and favoured by the people of Flinders to represent the area in which I grew up—the Mornington Peninsula and Western Port—and our strongest role is when we are partners with our community. Gunnamatta Ocean Beach, Point Nepean, the Somerville Secondary College, Balcombe Grammar, the Mornington cancer centre and the Abacus autism centre in Hastings—all of these things are meaningful and real.
But my most cherished possession is a simple letter that I received some years ago from Olivia. Olivia is the mum of Bella, who at the time was five. They were a family from a dairy and potato farm at Cora Lynn, just outside of Koo Wee Up. Olivia said to me that Bella had an ultra-rare genetic enzyme condition, which led to liver fibrosis and that it was a terminal condition without treatment. It’s so rare that there may at any one time be one child in Australia with it. There was no medicine in Australia and there was never going to be one that was listed. But, at her request, we asked the company to provide compassionate access from overseas, and thankfully they gave us the grace and did that. It’s the letter on her 6th birthday, which I keep behind my desk, which I wish to read briefly: ‘Isabella celebrated her 6th birthday at the start of August, and I thought this was a great opportunity to thank you and update you on her progress. We are overwhelmed with her response to the Kanuma infusion she started two months ago. She’s a changed little girl. Most notable for us is that she is no longer in constant pain. She’s started to build muscle. She has bounds of new energy. She spends most her free time playing on the gym rings outside. We hope to enrol her in gymnastics class soon.’ Well, she’s just turned nine. They did enrol her in gymnastics—and in soccer, and in cross-country. And, if there had been nothing else in these last 20 years, that alone would have been enough.
But now, Mr Speaker, it’s time to turn to focus on another family: Paula, Poppy, James, Elsa and Charlie the cavoodle. And there’s a lot more to do over the next six months. To paraphrase my favourite film, The Princess Bride—we’ve all got our secrets—there’s a country to protect, medicines to list, a budget to prepare and an election to win, but, when all of that is done, it will be time to come home. I honour the House.