Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation

Speech: Valedictory Speech

3 April 2019

The Hon Michael Keenan MP

Minister for Human Services and Digital Transformation

I am humbled and a little surprised to stand here to make my final speech after 15 years in this place because in 2004 when I was elected it was considered pretty unlikely that I would have this tremendous opportunity for so long.

I certainly wouldn’t have expected to be giving it from the dispatch box either.

In 2004, I had recently returned to Perth and was asked by the Liberal Party to assist our candidate for Stirling - then a Labor held seat - particularly with his media profile.

That didn’t turn out to be such a challenging job as he got a lot of unwanted media attention and was ultimately forced to resign, leaving the Liberal Party campaign in a shambles.

All hope of winning the seat evaporated but the Party wanted to change the story as quickly as possible by installing a new candidate and after a short conversation in head office, they decided to ask me.

The first I knew of this was when I got a call from the then Senior Vice President of the Liberal Party – I won’t name him but perhaps you can guess – who said: “Michael, as the Senior Vice President of the Liberal Party I think you should do this. But as a friend I think you would be mad”.

I politely ignored the advice, won the pre-selection against 5 other candidates and then set about campaigning. 

I was only 31, probably not ready for such a demanding role, but the great thing was we didn’t know we couldn’t win.

In hindsight it is obvious that the seat wasn’t really on the radar as winnable – something that should have been clear to me when I waited three days in Canberra to get a photograph with the then Prime Minister John Howard.

I was blessed at the time with having the greatest campaign team that any candidate could have wished for – people that have been by my side for the past 15 years and are now in the gallery and on the floor of the chamber here today.

I want to acknowledge them later in this speech but I think few members in the history of this house have been as fortunate as I have with their campaign teams.

That campaign in 2004 was a great experience.  Like most new candidates, we had not much of anything except a lot of free advice. However, we never missed an opportunity even when we had very little idea what we were doing.

My Campaign Chairman, John Franklyn, I will say more about him later, but he had a great saying when we were faced with things we weren’t sure we could pull off. “If it is worth doing it is worth doing badly,” he would say and, with that in mind, we just gave everything a go.

A couple of youngish guys who worked with me on that campaign have gone on to serve with me here also – Mathias Cormann, Dean Smith and Christian Porter.

With a lot of energy and a lot of effort over time we built a fantastic campaign and as success attracted success we went on to get a swing of over 7 per cent and won by a bit over 3000 votes.

So I got the privilege afforded to very few Australians to represent their community in this place.

I was always mindful that Stirling was a marginal seat and we always worked hard to keep winning.

No more so than in 2007 when Labor, and everyone else, thought they would win the seat back with a star candidate. Again we worked hard and got the result even though most other members of the class of 2004 were voted out.

On polling day in 2007 the West published- on their front page - a Stirling poll saying that we would lose the seat – which is a quite unwelcome way to wake up on polling day.

Again we overcame the odds and managed to maintain our slim margin.

Since being elected as member for Stirling in 2004, it has been an immense privilege to serve the people of Stirling, the Liberal Party, and Australia.

As Minister for Justice from 2013 to 2017, I worked closely with our law enforcement agencies to help make Australia a safer and more secure nation. There is much I am proud of following my time at the helm of Justice and Counter-Terrorism.

That was a time when we were faced with a significant deterioration in the international security environment that coincided with the creation and rise of the so called Islamic State that quickly took over large parts of Syria and Iraq.

This energised the existing ideology of radical Islamic terrorism and incited a small group of Australians to initially join them in the Middle East and then to remain in Australia and look for ways to kill and maim Australians.

I don’t think it is really well understood what we avoided in Australia during that time but we stopped 14 terror attacks.

This occurred because of the great work of our agencies – but they were able to achieve it because of the world leading changes we made to our legal regime that gave them the powers – backed up by the resources – to do it.

Counter-terrorism funding increased substantially and we strengthened our intelligence capabilities, passing legislation to strengthen our ability to investigate, monitor, arrest and prosecute home-grown extremists and returning foreign fighters.

Much of this was controversial at the time but our efforts led the world and their worth has been well and truly proven by the results. But there are also other things I am proud of from my time as Justice Minister.
 
We strengthened the powers of AUSTRAC to crack down on money laundering and terrorism financing, and introduced laws to tackle foreign bribery and corporate crime.
 
We established the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission to combine the intelligence, information and research capabilities of the Australian Crime Commission, CrimTrac and the Australian Institute of Criminology into a single agency.

The creation of this new agency was the result of painstaking and difficult negotiations with the States and Territories and we had to be tenacious to finally deliver.

We delivered a national unexplained wealth scheme to take the profit motive out of organised crime. 

As minister, I worked closely with my then state and territory counterparts to prioritise this scheme, noting that organised criminals do not respect state and territory borders.

Now we have a national cooperative scheme targeting illegitimate wealth, which has given our law enforcement agencies greater powers to seize criminal assets.

We implemented “Carly’s Law” to crack down on online child predators, and we put in place the biggest crackdown on child sex tourism ever, by banning passports for all registered child sex offenders.

The National Firearms Amnesty (NFA) that I oversaw was an extraordinary success with more than 57,000 firearms being handed in across Australia. Our country is a safer place as a result.

As Minister, I strengthened the NFA after difficult negotiations with the States and Territories. This built on one of the proudest legacies from the Howard Govt.

My first job in politics was with Gary Humphries when was ACT Police Minister and I saw first-hand how difficult this was to implement even here in the ACT.

When you are Prime Minister and people tell you that the policy you are championing will make you one of Australia’s shortest serving leaders, as John Howard was at the time, yet you do it anyway because it is right – that shows real leadership.

There is no doubt that those laws, that make it virtually impossible to get high powered weapons, have made an enormous contribution to our success against would be terrorists and avoided the horror we have seen of attacks overseas.

We set up the National Anti-Gangs Squads to combat organised crime and bikie gangs. We made significant inroads towards stopping the flow of illicit drugs, with record seizures and record arrests.
 
We implemented Taskforce Blaze – a joint effort with China – that has helped stem the flow of illicit drugs reaching out shores.
 
We unlocked the Proceeds of Crime Account to ensure these funds went towards fighting crime.

I was also proud to provide the Australian Federal Police with a record $321.4 million funding injection - the largest investment in their domestic capability in a decade.

During this time I also had responsibility for Emergency Management and got to see the resilience of many Australians facing the most devastating circumstances people can imagine.

Cyclones, fires, floods - I worked hard during those natural disasters to make sure the people affected got the best possible support. 
 
In Human Services and Digital Transformation, we have gone about the steady and methodical work of delivering the services that Australians need and want.
 
I have tried to focus on one single objective – to improve service delivery.

New technologies provide us with a wonderful opportunity to do this and this is why the two portfolios have rightly been put together.

In the last financial year, we saw 736 million self-service claims lodged online – meaning each was completed at a time and place that suited the customer.  We’ve driven further uptake of digital Medicare claims, 98 per cent of which are now completed online.

Medicare is now a great example that government services work best when they are completely seamless and easy to use.
 
We’ve made strong inroads in our efforts to improve our phone service and processing times for claims.

We’ve employed an extra 2750 staff to ensure the services we deliver are there for those who need it.
 
And we’ve worked across government to implement the National Redress Scheme and the Child Care Subsidy, to make changes to the Farm Household Allowance, and to progressively enable online services for child support customers.
 
As digital transformation minister, I was pleased to release our Digital Transformation Strategy and roadmap for Australia’s digital future.

We are already world leaders and the strategy outlines our plans to make sure that this remains the case.

We want digital services for the benefit of all Australians so that government is easy to deal with, and eliminating the need to deal with multiple agencies or layers of government.

In a world where productivity gains are harder and harder to come by, technological advances are perhaps some of our best opportunities to do more with less.

In this portfolio, I have had the opportunity to work with many Australians at the cutting edge of new tech.

I also for the first time brought every state and territory minister together in the Australian Digital Council to make sure every jurisdiction is working together.

We are harnessing the power of data to improve services and make better and faster decisions.

Currently the vast bulk of information the governments has sits idle like a vast untapped resource.

Liberating this information will provide untold insights into policy design and make what we do here better by providing us with more accurate evidence of what works and what doesn’t.

We have started establishing a new and better regime for us to share this data which has the potential to revolutionise government and provide better results for Australians.

We can also use this data in conjunction with new technology to provide tailored services to our customers.
 
During my time as a Minister I am proud to have been part of a very effective Coalition Government that has a good story to tell. We’ve cut taxes, we’ve undertaken the biggest infrastructure spend in our nation’s history, we made our country safer and more secure, we’ve brought integrity back to our borders by stopping the boats, and we are delivering a Budget surplus– Australia’s first in over a decade.
 
The Government’s plan for a stronger economy is working. Last night’s budget is evidence of that.

I am pleased and proud that this Coalition Government has fixed the historical anomaly of the unfair GST distribution that has held my home state at a disadvantage for too long.  This prime minister and this government fixed it – and the people of WA will benefit from this in the years and decades to come.

Of course, you can’t have served as a Minister without being a local member first.

It has been a great joy to work for the people of Stirling as their local representative.

I have had the pleasure of being able to announce funding for our local sporting clubs, community and volunteer groups.

They are the heart and soul of our community and supporting them on behalf of the Government has been one of the most satisfying and rewarding parts of the job.  

More recently, we have also delivered about $100 million in new funding for congesting busting measures like the Stephenson Avenue extension – making the Stirling City Centre possible – and for the widening of the Mitchell Freeway through Stirling.

In thinking about this final speech, I went back and read the first speech I gave in 2004.

I was given the compliment of seconding the address in reply in recognition that we had won the seat against tough odds.

I talked about the group of people Robert Menzies called “the forgotten people” – decent, hardworking – the only time they will get a chance to seriously engage in politics is at the ballot box every three years.

That’s because they are busy, raising a family, earning a living, trying to balance the family budget every month.  They don’t have time to lobby their MP or go to a protest.

These families might have their own small business, might have both parents working whilst juggling children, they pay their bills, school fees, and taxes and they have a right to expect that every hard earned dollar they paid to the government is spent with the care they would have spent it with.

These are the people that the Liberal Party must continue to champion and that always means blocking out the noise from those that have the time and resources to shout the loudest.

We are very lucky in Australia to have the system of government we do and it does concern me that when many people look at our democracy they don’t think that.

Australia is a very successful country and this has happened in conjunction with the government which is very much part of that success.

I will continue to work for the Liberal Party and the causes we hold dear throughout this election year and beyond.

I am deeply committed to seeing that Vince Connelly – the Liberal candidate for Stirling – retains my seat.
 
I thank the party members and branches in Stirling for supporting me as the party’s representative. I thank the Liberal Party leaders – Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison - who placed their faith in me by appointing me to the Ministry.

I thank my ministerial and party colleagues, and I thank my wonderful staff who have served me so well over the years.

I already mentioned my friends from WA who helped me get elected and remain great friends as parliamentary colleagues but wanted to single out Steve Ciobo and Peter Dutton who have been great mates since 2004 and who made the good times better and the bad times more bearable.

You know a lot of people in these jobs but everyone needs a few good and reliable friends.

In my Ministerial Office I was very well served by hugely capable people, many of whom have joined us today. During my career they have been ably led by Chief Of Staff Peter Soros, Sarah Wood and now Adrian Barrett. All three of whom were absolutely first class.

In my electoral office, my staff have done an exceptional job and making sure people who come to my office for help are supported.

Jackie, Francois, Caitlin and Lachlan will continue doing their job right up until the election.

I want to turn to my own campaign team.  I have been exceptionally blessed to have received incredible support over the years but I do want to single out two people in particular who are in the gallery today and who have been rocks on the campaign team since I was pre-selected.

Fay Duda has been by my side since before I was pre-selected and she continues to support me now even though she currently has considerable responsibilities as the President of the WA Liberal Party.

John Franklyn came on-board as my Campaign Chair in 2004 and ran five successful election campaigns.  I am deeply grateful for enormous efforts he put in for 15 years and he can now finally relax a bit at this coming election after a job well done.  In my 15 years in this job, I have always relied on John for sensible advice about any big decisions including the one not to recontest this time.

I would never have been elected or continued to win the seat without the efforts of John and Fay and I am pleased they joined us today.
 
Most importantly, I thank my family.

My parents Peter and Patricia have been with me every step of the way.  They have done what they have always done and offered me unlimited support – Mum being particularly outraged when anyone has dared to criticise me in the press.

I got used to it after 15 years but Mum never did.  Thank God she is not on Twitter.

My sisters Cath and Jenny and Cath’s kids Grace and Seb who are also here with me and have been great supports.

I need to thank my wife Georgina and our family – William, Theo, Hugo and the baby Rupert.

Georgina has been long-suffering and has basically raised our kids as a single Mum and I think it is fair to say whose patience with this job has finally expired.

I have been lucky to have had that level of support and I want to say how much I love her and thank her for everything she has put up with.

For the boys – I would have loved for them to be here today but the logistics of bringing four boys eight and under across the country was just too difficult – after a few hours on the plane with all of them it looks like Motely Crew on tour.

I now look forward to spending a little more time with them all.

When I have been called on to make hard decisions in this job or do difficult things – I would always try to make the right call by thinking I must make a decision that, when they are older and have a better understanding of the world, they would be proud of.

Finally and most importantly, I would like to thank the people of Stirling for placing their confidence in me at five successive elections. It has been the greatest honour of my life to represent my part of Perth in a community and city I love.

Thank you.

Page last updated: 3 April 2019