Speeches

Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Chris Hayes MP - Valedictory Speech

December 02, 2021

Mr HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (09:31): on indulgence—Mr Speaker, this is my first opportunity to congratulate you. I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land and the many nations that make up this great country of ours, Australia. I acknowledge their elders past and present, and also acknowledge their work in their conservation and care of this great country. I believe there's still much to be learnt from their practices and traditions. 

I remember standing here giving my first speech, full of emotion and pride. In 17 years it seems little has changed, except electorates. Just to answer some people: no, I haven't changed my mind—I'm still going. Bernadette is still up there in the gallery to make sure I don't recant! 

From Werriwa, where I was first elected in a by-election, where Bernadette and I raised our family and were both pretty engaged in our communities, I transferred, because of party interests, to the seat of Fowler. When I got here, it was an eye-opener for me. Not only was I representing one of the most multicultural electorates in the whole of Australia; they had a vastly different expectation of me as their Member. This multicultural community wanted me to be their voice on matters of human rights, particularly in respect of violations that occurred in countries of their respective diasporas. 

With the assistance of my local community and with my long association with Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, I have spoken regularly, as everyone here knows, on matters of human rights not only in this place but also in various community and academic forums. After parliament, I intend to continue my work with the human rights community as well as with the Capital Punishment Justice Project. As most would be aware, I am a convenor of Australian Parliamentarians against the Death Penalty, and have been since 2005.

I also intend to continue my association with the Police Federation of Australia. I think it's pretty common knowledge that my office has been well-known to police—but in a good sort of way! Not even with their badges could they get in here today, but I understand they're listening, so could I acknowledge the PFA president, Ian Leavers; CEO, Scott Weber; their predecessors, Mark Carroll, Vince Kelly and Peter Alexander; and my good mate for the last 25 years, Mark Burgess. I acknowledge them not only for their advocacy on behalf of 65,000 professional police officers in this country but also for putting policing on the national agenda. Their efforts in this regard have been truly commendable.

As Chief Opposition Whip, it necessitates me working very closely with my counterparts—a relationship that's built on honesty and integrity and trust. Our efforts have been to make this parliament work, as well as look after the welfare of our colleagues. I've been incredibly assisted by Jo Ryan and Anne Stanley during my time as Chief Whip. But, given the challenges of the pandemic, Bert van Manen and I, and our staff, have almost been joined at the hip. As the Member for Casey will well know, there have been many three-way conversations throughout this whole period. I also acknowledge the Manager of Opposition Business and the Leader of the House and the assistance they have given in helping us as Whips at least keep this place functioning. To Bert, Nola Marino, Scotty Buchholz and Warren Entsch: thanks for your friendship, your cooperation. Not many people really know what we do here, but together, and despite the adversarial environment of parliament, we strive to make this place work.

I would just like to make special mention of Philip Ruddock. I must be pretty careful here, because currently Philip is the President of the Liberal Party of New South Wales. Not only did he and I serve together as Chief Whips; we shared a common interest in the promotion of human rights and served together as Conveners of Australian Parliamentarians against the Death Penalty. Together, Philip and I visited the refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, seeing firsthand the plight of the displaced Syrian people, which was, without doubt, one of the worst humanitarian crises since the Second World War. Simply put, you could not come away from that experience unaffected. Full disclosure: Philip and I actually do remain close friends, but I assure my colleagues here that I will not be handing out for the Mayor of Hornsby at Saturday's council elections.

Throughout my time in politics, I have not been comfortable being out front when it comes to community campaigns. To me, it's always been important to work with others, local champions, and to assist them in achieving outcomes. For me, building community resilience was always more important than a photo opportunity. Maybe it's not necessarily the making of a good politician.

To show the calibre of the local community I have had the honour of working with, I would like to name just a few. I assure you it's not an exhaustive list. There are people like Grace Fava OAM, an advocate for autism support.

Lucy Reggio, a Liverpool Citizen of the Year, does incredible work with families living with disabilities and special needs.

Tracy Phillips, of Bonnie Support Services, and her team, looks after women fleeing domestic violence. Their work has increased exponentially over the period of this pandemic. Harry Hunt OAM is one of the most engaged business leaders in our region. From charities to startups, little happens in Liverpool without Harry's involvement.

Ken Chapman OAM is the driving force behind the Neighbourhood Watch program and a major supporter of Cabramatta business development.

Janice Le is a local lawyer and convener of Amnesty International as well as Human Rights Relief Foundation. Janice is really a moral compass for the community in a very, very complex world.

Carmen Lazar OAM, of the Assyrian Resource Centre, assists in the settlement of displaced peoples and refugees from the Middle East, principally from Syria and Iraq. Brad Parker, from MATES in Construction, looks after the mental health of workers in this dangerous but very essential industry.

Beth Godwin OAM is a former principal of Cabramatta High School, a passionate educator and advocate for the welfare of children, particularly those from diverse backgrounds.

James Chan OAM is one of the most respected leaders in the Chinese diaspora and a major contributor to the multicultural credentials of our community. I'm proud to call James my Chinese brother.

June and Ken Young—what a team! Both have been awarded OAMs and both are tireless in their charitable and community work, always looking after people from youth to veterans. They really epitomise the phrase 'service above self'.

Sid Hugen and the fellas from the Bonnyrigg's Men's Shed not only support the wellbeing of each other, but collectively they have made an enormous contribution in our local community.

Dr William Trinh OAM leads a team of dedicated doctors, optometrists, dentists and volunteers who regularly travel to Cambodia and Vietnam to treat the poor and those who are unable to obtain medical treatment.

Cheryl Bosler is associated with probably everything good that happens in Cabramatta. She is one of my community's most prized assets.

Charles Gream chronicles just about everything in life in our community. Charles is someone who genuinely cares about the community and its people.

These are just some of the many wonderful people that I have had the privilege of working with throughout my time in parliament and who have made a difference for the better in my community.

Throughout my career, I've been very fortunate to work alongside some incredible colleagues, committed in helping me look after the interests of our local community. Here, I'm speaking about my electorate staff. I know my decision to retire has an enormous impact on them, their lives, their families and it throws them into a period of uncertainty. From the outset, I always took steps to ensure that the diversity of our community was represented in the composition of my office. So just a few words about my current staff, if I may.

Gai Coghlan, my Office Manager, has been with me since my by-election in 2005. It may be a little indiscreet to say we've aged together in two electorates, but I'm afraid it's true. But despite everything, all the challenges, Gai has been truly loyal and totally reliable. The young ones in the office refer to her as their 'work mum'. Gai has kept me on the straight and narrow and certainly kept the office focused on the needs of our community.

Rania Haddad is a young lawyer of Lebanese heritage and an Arabic speaker, a great researcher and someone who shares my passion in respect of human rights. Her personality and daily selection of hijabs certainly lend colour to our office.

Alex Glumac, an electorate officer of Serbian heritage, is fully committed to looking after the welfare of the community as a whole. His language skills have been invaluable to me, particularly in our interactions with the Serbian, Croatian, Macedonian and Russian diasporas of my community.

Sandy Luc is a young woman fluent in Mandarin and Vietnamese who brings her analytical skills as a Business Development graduate in the way she deals with the complex needs of a community such as mine.

Grace Le is another young lawyer and a Vietnamese speaker, and apart from her role in the electorate office and working with me on matters of human rights, Grace fulfills the very important role of coordinating Labor's activities in the Federation Chamber.

Harry Wong is a young man of Chinese heritage fluent in Cantonese. Harry, a recent graduate, shows great care and compassion in dealing with constituents.

Nathaniel Dadd, on my relief staff, is a young man who keeps us grounded in how we should care and engage with people with disabilities. Nathaniel has really impressed me not only in his ability to pick up complex tasks but in how he has been able to settle in and become an integral part of an electorate team. Having a disability doesn't disbar you from being part of the community. I'm terribly proud of Nathaniel and all my staff. It has been a privilege to work with them over my time in parliament.

That brings me to my staff as Chief Whip. I'll start with Debra Biggs, who is in the Advisers' box. Debra has been a part of the parliamentary scene over the past 30-odd years and worked with most of the Labor luminaries—and then she gets stuck with me! Deb largely coordinates the functions between the Opposition and Government Whips' offices, with Jess and Larni, making sure that things work. I've got to say that Deb didn't have grey hair before she started working with me!

Now it comes to the real Whip, Anna George. Anna has had a lifetime serving the parliamentary Labor Party. She is the fount of all knowledge about the parliament and someone not to be messed with! I've always found that, to avoid trouble, it is advisable to check with Anna before acting. I should mention that Anna and I have decided to pull the pin and we're going to retire at the same time.

I'll say a few words about my high school sweetheart, who's been the centre of my life for almost 46 years. Before I get to Bernadette, I should say being of short stature has actually proven to be an incredible virtue for me. At the dances at the Mount St Joseph school, a convent school, as it turned out, Bernadette was one of the few girls shorter than me, so she quickly became my go-to dance partner and, somewhere along the way, became my life partner. Without Bernadette's support, I would not have even considered entering politics. Here in parliament, everyone knows Bernadette. I hate to say she's part of the furniture, but I think most people have had many, many interactions with her. Bernadette is widely known throughout the local community. I think I'd say she's far more loved than I'm known! In the 17 years that I've been a Member of Parliament, I think there would have been only a handful of events that Bernadette has not attended with me. She's been part and parcel of the team of looking after our community and being part of our community.

I turn now to our children. Elizabeth, like Bernadette, is an absolutely fabulous mother. She is also a devoted high-school teacher and someone who's absolutely determined to give kids graduating from Year 12 the best opportunities in life, particularly the children around Rosemeadow in New South Wales. My two sons, Nicholas and Jonathan, are both highly skilled tradespeople and devoted fathers. Of them and their families, our 10 grandchildren, we are just so proud. I'm also so thankful for their support and also probably what they've had to put up with over the period that I've been a Member of Parliament.

To the Speaker emeritus, Tony Smith: while retiring from politics, I know there will be another chapter in your life, and I trust it will be equally as successful as your time as Speaker. I wish to thank you for your friendship and support. Similarly, to all our colleagues who are not contesting the next election: I wish you all the best in future. I should say that my mate Wazza Snowdon and I have planned a few more motorcycle excursions.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr HAYES: Thankfully, the Speaker's not joining in that condemnation, being another fellow motorcyclist! Warren and I are probably destined to grow old disgracefully! To the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, who will be the next Prime Minister of this country: it's been an absolute privilege to serve your team as Chief Whip. I look forward to the next chapter of your life and that of all our Labor colleagues here—namely, to chart the future direction of this country. Australia needs a Labor government to restore fairness in the community and prosperity in our economic outlook.

To all those loyal ALP branch members who have supported me throughout my career: I can never repay that debt. But, sadly, we've lost a few along the way. Ted Wale, for instance, at 107, was the oldest living member of the Labor Party. His passing, along with that of his son Alan, was a tremendous loss to our Cabramatta branch. More recently was the passing of Huy Tran, one of the first Vietnamese people I met on coming to Fowler. At the age of 45, he was taken far too early. An old union mate of mine, Digby Young: not only did we work together in the AWU but he was a tireless supporter and campaigner for me in every election in Fowler.

To the Clerks, the Serjeant-at-Arms and their staff, who have always been so professional and proper in their dealings with me; Luch and all the attendants; Joy our cleaner; our COMCAR drivers; and all who've made my time here more comfortable: thank you. Also, a special thanks to the staff of the Parliamentary Library. Apart from research, they've certainly kept me in novels, which I share with my mother.

Notwithstanding the pandemic, there are probably two areas which I'd like to highlight that occurred within the last 12 months which have been quite significant—if you like, a high point, at least for me. Recently working with the Capital Punishment Justice Project team we submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of Thailand for an Australian citizen who was on death row. His final judicial moment was to be considered. Not only did we get this Australian citizen off death row; all charges were then dropped because of the brief that was provided. This man is now back living with his family here in Australia.

The other one I'd like to indicate, which certainly involves the Minister opposite: he will recall that I had eight people who were trapped in Kabul after its fall—as a matter of fact, caught in the bombing at Kabul airport. The Minister brought his staff back to the parliament at 11 pm one night, together with my staff, and worked on the necessary paperwork. We tracked their journey from Kabul, through to Quetta, then onto Islamabad, and a military flight brought them home from there. It's one of those things that can be achieved by working cooperatively. Alex, mate, thanks for your cooperation, and Ross MacDonald, who was there at 11 o'clock at night. It's really appreciated. That family is now happily settled in this country. Whilst there have been high points, there is still one low point for me.

A great personal disappointment is that, despite what I consider to be my best efforts over the last two years, I have not been able to get an Australian citizen, Van Kham Chau, out of a Vietnamese prison. This 72-year-old retired baker from Western Sydney was convicted on charges of terrorism solely because of his membership of a human rights and pro-democracy organisation here in Australia. So I'd make this plea to the Prime Minister: please take an active interest in this matter. I know that you and, indeed, the Australian government have a good relationship with the Vietnamese administration but could you please take an active interest in this with a view to securing Mr Chau's release so he can return to his wife and family here in Australia.

Finally, I am the 1,018th person to have had the honour of representing their local community in the federal parliament. It has been an absolute privilege to serve in this place. To the people of Werriwa, and those of Fowler, I say a heartfelt thank you. To everybody here, I wish you a merry Christmas and I hope you have time with your family and loved ones. I look forward to welcoming a Labor government next year.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST