The father of the NSW House says goodbye

Valedictory speech
Ron Dyer

The Hon Michael Egan (Treasurer, Minister for State Development, and Vice-President of the Executive Council): ... I thank all honourable members for their assistance and co-operation throughout the year. In particular, I thank the eight members among us whose terms are expiring at the end of this Parliament and who are not seeking re-election.

There are two on the Government side, the Hon Janelle Saffin and the Hon Ron Dyer; there are three crossbenchers, the Hon Alan Corbett, the Hon Helen Sham-Ho, and the Hon Richard Jones; and there are three Opposition members, the Hon Dr Brian Pezzutti, the Hon James Samios, and the Hon John Jobling. All of them can be proud of the contribution they have made to the Parliament. I do not intend to make comments about each of them specifically, other than my colleague the Hon Ron Dyer.

As honourable members will be aware, the Hon Ron Dyer is the father of this House. I am one of the few members who was a member of Parliament when he was elected, so I remember his election to this place, taking the seat of the Hon John Ducker. It is 23 years since John Ducker left this Parliament. To some of us who were here at the time, it seems like only yesterday.

I have known the Hon Ron Dyer for a lot longer than he has been in Parliament. In fact, he was one of the first faces and names I got to know when I joined Young Labor in about 1965. We were on different sides; he was a right winger and I was a left winger, and I thought the only thing worse than being a National or a Liberal was being in the right wing of the Labor Party. Young Labor, or the ALP youth conference as we then called it, was a very unusual organisation. There were only about 100 of us in the whole of the State, and that was at a time when we thought, at least in our saner moments, that the Labor Party might be doomed and might not even see out the decade.

Young Labor comprised an unusual bunch of people, all of whom in their late teens were convinced that the world was in dire danger and most of whom were convinced that we could save it by the time we turned 30. We not only had to save it amongst all the external forces; we had to save it amongst one another, so we fought bitter battles. But I must say that the Hon Ron Dyer - and he probably does not appreciate this point - was my first introduction to economic rationalisation. We used to meet every second Tuesday in Labor Party headquarters in Elizabeth Street. One evening the Hon Ron Dyer moved a motion supporting the containerisation of our ports. I remember that my faction vehemently opposed that because it would cost jobs on the waterfront. So when the Hon Ron Dyer moved the motion I was outraged, like all of my other left-wing colleagues. I even took a point of order.

The President of Young Labor, whose name I think was Paul Keating, asked me what my point of order was. I said that the motion was out of order because it would cost jobs. He said, "That is not a point of order. Sit down!" However, during the course of the Hon Ron Dyer's speech I saw the sense of what he was saying. I had never heard the term "containerisation" before - I just knew it was bad because it was being moved by a right winger - but by the end of his speech he had not only convinced me that our ports needed to be containerised, he had also convinced me for the first time to break ranks with the Left. So that was the beginning of my life of economic rationalisation.

Throughout the Hon Ron Dyer's parliamentary career he has exhibited the good sense that he exhibited on that occasion. He has been an extremely valuable member of Parliament and an extremely valuable member of the Australian Labor Party. He has served his party, the Parliament, and the people of Australia and New South Wales with great distinction.

I also pay tribute to the other seven members who are leaving us at the coming election for their contributions to the Parliament. This House will certainly be a very different place and, I think, a poorer place for their departure. They are all leaving at an age when, at one time, one would only begin to contemplate a parliamentary career. So they all have a lot of life left in them, and I am sure they will distinguish themselves in whatever new activity or occupation they take up, just as they have distinguished themselves as members of this Parliament. On behalf of all members I thank them. I also wish everyone a very happy Christmas.

The Hon Ron Dyer: I would like first of all to thank the Hon Mike Egan, the Leader of the Opposition and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition for their kind remarks about me and my retiring colleagues. I have known the Hon Michael Egan, as he indicated, for a very long time. I did not realise that this morning he was going to enter into a pre-emptive strike and reveal to the House, first of all, that he was a left-winger, which is a notorious fact so far as I am concerned. My first meeting with the Hon Michael Egan is almost lost in the mists of time. And I did not realise this morning that I was going to be blamed for economic rationalism.

"Crime prevention through social support: I believe that is the way to go to reduce crime levels and to deal with the problems of neglect, abuse and poverty, which are productive of high crime rates."

The Hon Michael Egan is someone with whose views I have usually agreed over the years, but I believe that he is profoundly wrong regarding one matter. The Leader of the Government has said that he will remain as a member of this House until 2016 or as long as it takes to abolish the House. I happen to believe in the bicameral system of government, and I think that this House, in particular the committee system of this House, plays a useful role. Although I agree with Mike on most matters, that is one point of departure.

I actually thought that containerisation was an issue advocated by our mutual friend Paul Keating many years ago, but I am being saddled with economic rationalisation. I thought I was a follower of the Chifley legend. Mike Egan is perhaps partly rewriting history, at least to the extent of blaming me for economic rationalism. Some of my left-wing colleagues are saying that I have a lot of blame to carry if I am responsible for that change.

My term of service as a member of this House commenced on 14 September 1979, obviously a long time ago. As has been mentioned, I am now the father of the House. My successor in that role will be Reverend the Hon Fred Nile, who was elected two years after me in 1981. In case Fred is overawed by the awesome responsibilities of that office, I say to him that the fact he is to become the father of the House does not mean that the Hon Michael Costa becomes his son.

I have been here a long time and I have seen a lot of amusing things happen. I will tell just one story. I cannot tell you any more because my colleagues might not speak to me again.

Shortly after I became a member, I was among the first group of members who moved into the parliamentary office building fronting the Domain. The Labor members had to decide how to allocate our parliamentary offices. A ballot, or perhaps more correctly a drawing of lots, occurred and was performed by the Hon Johno Johnson, with the late Hon Kath Anderson and the Hon Dorothy Isaksen as the scrutineers. The outcome of that drawing of lots was surprising. The right-wing members of the caucus, including me, found themselves with offices along the Domain side of the building. The left-wing members of the caucus, plus the Hon John Morris, who was offside with Sussex Street at the time, found themselves with offices on the other side of the building. The Hon Peter Baldwin, later a Minister in a Federal Labor Government, was one of those disadvantaged left-wing members. Peter, who was quite a whiz at maths and statistics, worked out that the odds against that outcome happening randomly were many millions to one. From that time on we decided that the seniority principle was the better way to go.

I sincerely thank my wife, Dorothy, who is in the public gallery, and our children, Andrew and Elspeth, aged 24 and 21 years respectively, who cannot remember me as a solicitor, only as a member of Parliament. A couple of months ago I was asked to speak to a group of social work students from the University of Western Sydney. They asked me to address three questions, the first of which was why I decided to go into politics. On that day, which was a sitting day, I was driving to the city with my wife. I said to her, "What do you think I ought to say?" She said, "Tell them you were insane at the time." I did, and they thought it was very funny. However, the serious answer I gave to the question was, "You cannot change the world but you can make a difference." I will come back to that shortly.

I would like to thank the Hon Peter Primrose, unquestionably the best Whip under whom I have served; he is highly conscientious and efficient. I also extend my regards to the Hon John Jobling, who is retiring with me and with whom I have always had a good relationship. I thank my former ministerial staff and my present staffer Pam Ball, who was my private secretary when I was the Minister for Public Works and Services. Finally, I thank the Clerks, who make this place tick procedurally; Hansard, who have the facility to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, the Parliamentary Library; the dining room staff; the attendants, who administer to our needs constantly; and the ministerial drivers.

I would like to extend special regards to my old sparring partner opposite, the Hon Dr Brian Pezzutti. We have said some fairly harsh things about each other from time to time. On one celebrated occasion, when I was admittedly under a severe degree of provocation, I referred to him as "boofhead". The Hon Max Willis, in considering a point of order, ruled that the term implies a lack of intelligence and that it was on the borderline of being unparliamentary.

I have seen some impressive members pass through this Chamber. I would like to mention the late Sir Adrian Solomons, with whom I had a father-son relationship in some ways. We attended many constitutional conventions together and he was a consummate speaker on legal issues. I also remember the Hon Richard Bull, with whom I travelled overseas investigating police promotions. Richard Bull is an example of a member who brings into focus what the Hon Mike Egan said at the end of question time last Thursday, that is, that politics is largely a matter of timing. I regard Richard Bull as a very able shadow Minister and someone who would have performed well as a Minister, but he was here at the wrong time, when the Coalition parties were in Opposition.

There are some people in the other place who will very much miss my departure from this House. I am thinking of Grant McBride and Paul Gibson, who tell what I would describe as bar stories about me late at night. The bar is not a place that I am known to frequent with any regularity, but I do receive regular intelligence reports. When they are in the bar brainstorming over their constituents' problems, they relieve the tension by telling stories about me. My favourite is that when I was an adolescent I went through a personal crisis when I had to decide whether to be a ballet dancer or a boxer. I resolved this conflict by deciding to be a boxer and ended up as, I think, a world light featherweight champion.

There is one true story, and that is the Christmas card incident. The Hon Michael Egan is ducking for cover. When we were in Opposition and the Hon Mike Egan and I were shadow Ministers, the Hon Mike Egan, assisted by the Hon Paul O'Grady, a former member of the House, obtained, to use a neutral term, one of my Christmas cards. They wrote in it: "Bob, get f....., Ron" and sent it to Bob Carr. When he received it, he was more than a little surprised and wondered what he had done to upset me so much. He realised that someone was having a joke at his expense, and at mine as well.

I said that I wanted to make a difference. Without puffing up my chest too much, I want to say that juvenile conferencing is something of which I am proud, although the Coalition can take some credit for that as well, particularly the Hon John Hannaford. It gives a fairer deal to young people. I established juvenile detention centres at Dubbo and Grafton - not that I gained any pleasure from constructing such facilities. The rationale for doing so was so that young people would not be incarcerated many hundreds of kilometres away from their homes and be deprived of visits from family and friends.

I restored the deleted child protection positions, although. I do not want to make a contentious speech on this occasion. I established what was then the Ageing and Disability Department, which is now known as the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care, and I created 383 permanent supported accommodation places for people with disabilities. Following that initiative, I received some very moving letters of thanks.

My proudest achievement in public works - and this is partly contentious, or it was at the time - is the Conservatorium of Music, which I believe is a highly sophisticated and very successful building. The Treasurer will know that it was not erected without cost. It certainly does not look, as one critic said when I was going through the trauma of trying to get it built, like a cupcake on a plate. It is a truly magnificent building.

However, I consider that my main achievement was not a ministerial achievement, but the contribution I sought to make to the committee system of this House. In 1986 I chaired the Select Committee on Standing Committees, which was commonly called the committee on committees. That led in turn, albeit under a Coalition Government - I want to give credit when it is due - to the establishment of a permanent system of standing committees. In the last four years, since I ceased to be a Minister, I have been happy to chair the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, which in my view has produced some significant reports, of which I will mention only three.

The first is the report entitled "Crime Prevention through Social Support". I believe that is the way to go to reduce crime levels and to deal with the problems of neglect, abuse and poverty, which are productive of high crime rates. The Government has partly sought to deal with the recommendations of that report through the Families First Program.

The Hon Michael Egan will know that the New South Wales Bill of Rights inquiry was not something that the Premier favoured. In fact, I think he was incandescent with rage the night it was set up. However, I was determined to get something out of that exercise. We recommended that there ought to be a scrutiny of bills function in this Parliament. That led to the Regulation Review Committee being upgraded to a legislation review committee with a scrutiny of bills function. That committee has been legislated for, but it has not commenced to sit yet. It will in the new Parliament. I wish that initiative well, and I am pleased with that outcome.

Finally I mention the recently released report on child sexual assault prosecutions, which contains, in my view and in the committee's view, worthwhile recommendations for reform of court procedures relating to child sexual assault. Among other things we recommend a model court to have more child-friendly procedures so that children are not intimidated in various ways that are inappropriate to their stage of intellectual development; for example, asking questions containing double negatives or hypothetical questions that the child simply does not understand. There are ways to deal with that, and in a detailed report we have made those recommendations. I pay tribute to my deputy-chair, the Hon John Ryan, for his invariably constructive role, which has permitted unanimous reports during the last four years. The fact that they were unanimous has added an increased measure of credibility to them that has made the adoption of the reports' recommendations more likely, as has proved to be the case.

I wish to make a final comment that is quite serious. During my parliamentary life, and my political life beforehand, I have always regarded myself as an adherent of parliamentary democracy. I regard that as something that should be guarded and as something that is very precious. I regard the recent raid by the Independent Commission Against Corruption of the parliamentary office of the Hon Malcolm Jones as an appalling abuse. I believe that legislative attention is required to address that matter. I wonder what is left of parliamentary privilege if such an event is allowed to happen.

I would like to add that, in arguing for the support and defence of parliamentary privilege, I am not speaking from some elitist perspective in favour of members of Parliament. We should all remember that parliamentary privilege is basically not our privilege but the privilege of the people. Just as legal professional privilege is the client's privilege rather than the solicitor's privilege or the barrister's privilege, parliamentary privilege is there so that we - who, after all, are the elected representatives of the people, not people who are appointed to some commission and who are not answerable to anyone in the way we are - are able to speak openly and fearlessly on behalf of constituents and their problems. We should not be open to the threat of being sued as a result of raising sensitive problems, as all of us have done over the years, that would otherwise leave us open to legal action. I regard that matter as serious. I hope that some legislative attention is given to it, as I have said.

I thank all my colleagues of whatever party, especially the Ministers at the table, the Hon Michael Egan and the Hon John Della Bosca, the latter of whom I have also known for a long time and with whom I have always had a productive relationship. In politics one forms many friendships that are by no means confined to parties but are spread across parties. I convey my best wishes to all my colleagues who are both retiring and continuing as members of this place.


Ron Dyer is a Vice-President of the Evatt Foundation. He made his valedictory address to the Parliament of New South Wales in the Legislative Council on 5 December 2002.