Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
I join the Prime Minister in honouring the life of Peter Keaston Reith.
On the 8th of November, the Liberal Party lost a stalwart and a giant.
Our nation lost a gifted statesman and a great Australian.
And a family lost a devoted and beloved husband, father and grandfather.
Peter Reith was born in Melbourne in 1950.
He was schooled at Brighton Grammar and an economics-law graduate of Monash University.
Peter commenced his career as a solicitor.
He joined the Young Liberals in 1966, so politics would be Peter’s true calling.
Ten years later, aged 26, Peter would serve as a Councillor and then President of the Shire of Phillip Island.
There, he helped to set up the independent, co-ed Newhaven College and establish a research facility which saved the island’s penguin population – still a tourist draw card today.
From Phillip Island to the Federal seat of Flinders, Peter won Liberal pre-selection, seeing off 14 fellow candidates.
In ‘82, he won a by-election in what Prime Minister Fraser called an ‘outstanding’ campaign.
Peter was applauded for his ability to sell a simple message.
Yet Peter noted the irony of his victory: it was a ‘final high’ for the Fraser Government.
What followed, of course, was the downfall of opposition leader Bill Hayden, the ascension of Bob Hawke, and Labor’s 1983 win in a double-dissolution election.
Peter lost Flinders without setting foot in Parliament, only to win the seat back 20 months later in the election of 1984.
He would hold Flinders until his retirement in 2001 always making efforts to tour the electorate, to engage with his constituents, and to champion its tourism and rural sectors – the ultimate Mornington Peninsula representative.
Peter saw the electorate of Flinders as ‘one of the great places in Australia to live and enjoy’.
Just as he promised in his maiden speech, he represented his constituents to the best of his ability.
Testimony to his discerning mind and his political persuasiveness, Peter was trusted with several shadow portfolios and he was a very, very effective Manager of Opposition Business.
As Shadow Attorney-General, Peter helped deliver the knockout blow to Labor’s 1988 four question referendum.
He was Deputy Leader and Shadow Treasurer for three years, Peter pushed forward John Hewson’s ‘Fightback!’ package with passion.
In defending the economic policies on Four Corners, Peter masterfully mounted a counter-offensive, putting the ABC, the Labor Government and Treasury in his crosshairs following the leaking of Treasury documents.
For his performance, the Coalition Party Room gave him a standing ovation.
Despite prophetically calling for a GST, ‘Fightback!’ was not to be – and yet much of that economic agenda has been implemented by both sides since.
Peter’s hard fight in Opposition saw him rewarded with the important industrial relations portfolio following the advent of the Howard Government in 1996.
There, he was given the colossal task of long-overdue waterfront reform.
With Australia having only 2 per cent of world trade, but 25 per cent of dock disputes, the problem was dire and protracted – an economic bane on Australian consumers, exporters and indeed the nation.
Peter set to work to end deep-seated inefficiencies, stoppages, strikes and strangleholds – fearlessly staring down intimidation from the Maritime Union of Australia.
He found his ally, of course, in Chris Corrigan, backing the head of Patrick Stevedores in his move to replace union workers with contractors in April of 1998.
Ultimately, a deal was reached and the union monopoly broken.
John Howard described it as ‘the most bitterly fought domestic issue’ of his Prime Ministership, but one ‘worth the effort’ seeing ‘ruinous behaviour’ replaced by ‘world-ranking productivity’.
Indeed, container movements increased from 17 per hour in 1998 to 27 per hour by 2003.
Peter’s pivotal workplace reforms involving deregulation, employer tax concessions, and support to low-income earners along with his stand against militant union bosses in the face of repeated threats to his physical safety were his crowning political achievements.
Despite being abused and threatened by the unions, unfairly ridiculed by some parts of the press, and given some of the toughest jobs by Liberal leaders, Peter Reith was never rattled.
Even as Leader of the House for five years – no easy feat – his resilience was even subtly praised by Paul Keating who compared him to an inflatable Toltoy clown:‘you knock ‘em down and they bounce back up’.
Not even a stroke in 2017 could keep Peter down, although it hit hard.
Life after politics saw the discerning Peter remain publicly and politically engaged.
He was an Executive Director of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London between 2003 and 2009.
But he didn’t go there to soak up glory.
He described the institution as ‘a bunch of bureaucrats looking after themselves’ and Australia’s ongoing involvement as a ‘nonsense’.
He urged the Rudd Labor Government to withdraw from the bank to allow millions to be returned to the taxpayer.
As was noted at his funeral last week – not the most popular stance to take with fellow Board of Directors.
From banking to the television broadcasting studio, on Sky News, two Peters from opposing sides of the political aisle – Reith and Beattie – hosted a highly successful program – I put that in inverted commas – was noted for its insightful and humorous commentary.
As others have acknowledged, Peter was a ‘great warrior for the Liberal cause,’ a ‘man of steel who never wavered,’ a ‘magnificent and untiring soldier,’ a ‘great all-rounder,’ and a ‘most effective’ politician.
Dr Hewson said, ‘there are few real friends in politics’, but he lost one in Peter – a ‘true gentleman’.
Peter was loyal to his colleagues and leaders.
A man of charm who treated his staff well and was widely liked.
An enthusiast and idealist with a vision for Australia.
A politician with courage, with conviction, composure and a great sense of camaraderie who said:“changes in political fortunes do not come by the mere passage of time, but rather are a result of the endeavours of men and women.”
The story of his personal life was well-documented during his funeral last week.
The love that he had for his children and for his grandchildren was remarked on and the emotion was obvious with the family.
I especially acknowledge his wife Kerrie, his four sons – Paul, Simon, David and Robert – and the family members who are present today.
On behalf of the Coalition, I offer my heartfelt condolences to Peter’s colleagues, his friends, and his family.
May he rest in peace.