Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Peter Veness, some memories.

"He filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run"

Peter succumed to cancer a year ago tonight, aged just 27.

It shouldn't have happened.

He was wise beyond his years. He gave back far far more than he took out.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ms GILLARD (Lalor—Prime Minister) (14:49): On indulgence, since parliament last met we have seen the passing of Peter Veness. It was a sad duty for me, accompanied by my partner, Tim, to attend Peter's funeral earlier this year along with other members of the parliament and, I believe, almost the entire parliamentary press gallery. He was a young man who fought incredibly hard against cancer—a young, young man taken from us and from his family far too soon. Even as he struggled with cancer and continued to come to work he turned his thoughts to fundraising for others. Many here would have participated in those fundraising events. One was participated in by Tim as a 'shave-off' event. Peter's courage was on display as he went about those good works, even as he battled cancer himself.

At the funeral service his young wife, Bec, made a remarkable tribute to him. I think her speech, along with the other contributions that day, will be in our minds and in our thoughts for a long period of time. Our thoughts continue to be with Bec and with his parents, David and Cheryl, in the depths of their grief, as we mourn a young man lost far too soon.

Mr ABBOTT (Warringah—Leader of the Opposition) (14:50): I join with the Prime Minister to pay my respects and the respects of the coalition to someone who was taken away from us far too soon. The phrase 'respected journalist' is normally a bit of an oxymoron, but Peter Veness was not only a respected journalist; he was also a loved journalist. He was certainly very good at his job, as anyone who was grilled by him at the front doors of this building would know. But there was no edge to it and there was no malice to it, as the tributes that have poured in since his passing show.

I particularly liked the tribute that came from the Director-General of ASIO, David Irvine, who noted Pete's meticulous attention to detail. I have often wondered about the clunk on the phone that sometimes happens, and it is good that ASIO are still listening in to the conversations that journalists have. Death is the ultimate mystery, but Peter Veness wrote about it with insight, pathos and humour. We miss him. We mourn him. We particularly grieve with his widow, Bec, and we acknowledge that, more than just about anyone else who has been in this place recently, he filled the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.

The SPEAKER: As a mark of respect, I invite honourable members to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Mr FRYDENBERG (Kooyong) (11:44): On indulgence, I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Peter Veness. He was a young, courageous and good man who at 27 years of age departed far too early from this earth. I got to know Peter as a journalist for the Australian Associated Press, the AAP, when I first came to the parliament in late 2010 and he was working in the Canberra press gallery. He always struck me as having a nice sense of humour, an ear and an eye for a good story, and a professional and dedicated commitment to his journalistic craft. Even as he battled against a rare form of brain cancer, which was diagnosed in 2009, Peter remained stoic and positive and true to his larrikin streak. In his own words, 'Live a life of no regrets. Don't die wondering.'

In a poignant article in 2009 Peter wrote:

Even when life is consumed by thoughts of death, of leaving my most loved, of lying in a coffin, of being lowered six feet, there are ways of smiling. Old, silly jokes still bring a smile to my face and the sight of just about any dog makes me joyous from a childhood spent spilling all my secrets to my loyal blue heeler, Bert.

There is one final wish I haven't mentioned. To live. I pray at night, asking my God the seeming simplest of questions: 'Will you save me?' I haven't heard back yet.

God did not answer that call in the way we would have liked, and so, Peter Veness will be deeply missed by his colleagues in the press gallery, his admirers in the parliament and his loyal friends and treasured family.

My condolences go out to his wife, Bec, and his parents, David and Cheryl, at this very difficult time. Rest assured you are in our thoughts and prayers as we remember the life and contribution of a good and decent man, Peter Veness. Peter, may you rest in peace.

Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (11:46): Having been elected in 2010, like my colleague the member for Kooyong, I have not had as much as others to do with the fourth estate, camped down the hallway in the press gallery. But I did get to meet a number of characters in a short space of time. Some of them can drive you to this blissful plane of distraction and albeit occasionally infrequent frustration. One bloke I had the genuine pleasure of getting to know as he went about with his scrawny beard broken up with a grin that had a good load of cheek in it was Peter Veness. The scrawny beard came about for a reason that too many people knew. In late 2010 I came to appreciate why he had grown that beard. I got swept up to go into a fundraiser at the National Press Club to raise funds for cancer research. Pete had his beard shaven off as a broader effort to raise funds for cancer research.

In dealing with Pete he never gave you a sense of what he was going through. He masked it so well. He was literally an emotional rock. But if you wanted an insight into what he was going through you just needed to Google the feature he wrote in 2009. I certainly commend that to people. Not only did he share in the trials and the difficulty that cancer patients go through in their treatment but you are enamoured with his spunk and with his fighting spirit.

I want to reflect on some of that. I loved when he said, for example:

The doctors give me little hope. Stuff the doctors who have already killed me; they don't tell me when to die. These are the same doctors who told me they would eat their hats if there were any tumours on my spine. Well, get out your knives and forks, boys, and chow down on those Akubras.

That is the attitude and spirit that drew me to Pete Veness, and it drew a lot of people to him.

We would bump into each other from time to time and you would have no sense of what he was going through. But when we did, he and I folded arms in a corner of the gallery, sorting out issues nimbly and with ease, him razzing me and me trying to get one up on him. These moments and stories were shared by many. The impact of the bloke, as seen by the outpouring of emotion after the terrible events of Sunday, 15 January, really spoke volumes. The power of Pete was that he could make you laugh through your tears. A lot of us would recount the good in him and want to measure up to that good ourselves. A number of pieces that were written and a number of words that were said have left an impact on me. Chris Johnson, writing on 20 January, recounted a number of stories, but he summed it up neatly when he said:

This cannot be a dispassionate piece of writing, because Veness was not a dispassionate person. A larrikin's larrikin by any reckoning. Loud and boisterous, yet with a heart as big as his cheeky grin. And a sensitivity that could make you weep.

I also love:

He taught all his blokey friends that it was okay to say "I love you, brother" and really mean it.

Chris Johnson also recounted how, after Pete's high-school days at Gilgandra, he and his family settled in Bathurst, where Peter studied journalism at Charles Sturt University:

It was from where he sought out again the sweetheart he first met in Gilgandra, Bec Bignell. Long-time partners, they married after his diagnosis.

To Bec, and to his folks, David and Cheryl, I extend my deepest condolences.

I was unable to attend his funeral service or the wake afterwards because I was overseas, but I did keep tabs on what people were saying and the outpouring of emotion that I mentioned earlier. One article about it reads:

AAP colleague Adam Gartrell said Pete - as he was known - embodied many of the best things about the craft of journalism. Pete believed the best story he ever wrote was a yarn about a farmer doing it tough, which he got by striking up a conversation with a random guy at a pub out bush. "That was pure Pete. He may have written about elections, political spills and scandals, but writing about the plight of the common man was what really made his heart sing," Gartrell said.

His wife, Bec, was quoted:

She said many had remarked it was a tragedy that someone so young had lost his battle with cancer. "He didn't lose. He kicked cancer's arse every day for almost three years," she said. "He got out of bed every single day up until a month ago."

It is these types of things that moved people about Peter—the strength within him but everything still done with class.

But for a smart bloke he made bad sporting choices. I told you about all the razzing that he did of me. He would razz me about my support of the Chicago Bulls basketball team, and he countered it with his misplaced support for the Utah Jazz. At this point I would like to advise the ABC's Latika Bourke, who says that not many people follow the NBA, that she should talk to some of her colleagues, because Pete was a mad fan. He would talk to me about the greats of the Utah Jazz—Stockton, Malone, Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur and Deron Williams. Back and forth on Twitter or Facebook, he and I would be talking about the NBA and swapping insults. We were joined by a long-term mate of mine who I discovered later is actually his cousin, Todd Clewett. If Pete Veness were in this place right now, he would dare me to do this, to put on the colours of the Utah Jazz. There are not too many teams that I would do this for, but for Pete, and in respect of his cheek, I will do it this one time and I will say, 'I love you, brother.'

Mr RUDD (Griffith—Minister for Foreign Affairs) (11:53): On indulgence—what to say about the life of Peter Veness? Many things have been said, by many who knew him a long time and many who knew him just in the recent months of his most acute suffering. I do not intend to speak about his life as a journalist. Others are much more familiar with that than I am. His colleagues have spoken of his professionalism, and they will speak with eloquence and effect on that. I would just like to reflect for a moment on Peter Veness the human being, the person. There is a strange thing about this place—Parliament House, Canberra; the cauldron of the nation. Here we see the best and worst of people. Peter Veness was one of the best, because he had about him an almost universal humanity and a universal—and I use the word advisedly—spirituality. There was something about this young man that, beyond his experience of suffering and the automatic response of compassion which that evokes in any person of feeling and of conscience, gave him the remarkable ability to touch you as a human being. What was it that was unique about this young guy in his 20s? It had something to do with the fact that Peter had a deep and underlying dignity and calm. As the member for Chifley just reminded us, he was the best at a throwaway line or remark about the depths of suffering through which he was going. That is one of the great Australian attributes. When people ask, 'How are you going, mate?' a person might reply, 'Oh, I'm battling on,' knowing that they only have a few weeks to live. But, underneath that, it was the dignity and calm of this individual that struck me as a human being.

That dignity and calm came from a number of factors. When he was getting sick again, he asked to come and have a yak. I had just come out of heart surgery at the time, and so he came round to the house that we have in Yarralumla. We spent a long, long time talking. His grounding as a human being—his dignity, his calm and his poise—came from the absolutely foundational love of his parents. Adults do not often reflect on that, but it was the unconditional and supporting love of his parents that gave him those things. David and Cheryl were rocks to him—the rocks of his life. That gave him a sense of foundation from which he could not be moved.

Then there was the love of his life, Bec. They chose to get married in 2009, both knowing full well that he had a pretty ugly sentence hanging over his head. But they embarked upon the adventure of a married life together absolutely confident in their future and absolutely determined to rejoice in every day that they had together. This for him became the second great grounding force in his life. I have never met a young woman like Bec, who has such strength of character for one so young. She was presented with so many of life's adversities in such an acute form so early. Maybe it is growing up in the country; I am not sure. But the two of them, and young Bec in particular, would literally take my breath away, and Therese's as well, as we sat and talked. We attended the same church here in Canberra, St John's in Reid.

That brings me to my third point. He was also a person grounded in his faith. He had extraordinary and remarkable faith. His was not a long discourse with yours truly about Dietrich Bonhoeffer; his was a long discourse about why he was here, what his purpose was and what he was supposed to be doing in life. He was anchored in these deep spiritual fundamentals, which gave him calm, poise and dignity even as he faced death.

I last spoke to him when he was in Clare Holland House, the hospice here in Canberra. He was fading in and out. I am not quite sure how much he took in of what I was saying, so I decided to read to him instead. I understand that he took that in and received some modest element of comfort in that basic expression of human solidarity from that. I do not come to this chamber often to talk about individual lives. It has never been my habit. But the great thing about this guy is that he is one of those folk who will stay indelibly imprinted in our minds, our memories and our hearts because of who he was and not because of the position that he held. There is something deeply commendable about his humanity which I believe can ennoble us all if we reflect on it in our own future lives.

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (12:04): On indulgence—I would like to offer my condolences for the death of Peter Veness to his family and to his wife, Bec. Like the previous speaker, the member for Mayo, the first time that I met Peter Veness was at the doors of Parliament House. I concur with the member for Mayo that he never let me, as a new MP in 2007, get off lightly in the questions that he asked. He also—and this was a real part of his nature—never followed the lead of the other journalists on the door, with many of the questions coming very much from left field. They were sometimes ones that I was not prepared for. I believe that that showed Peter's tenacity. After that we did manage to move on from some of those difficult questions. We had a lot of conversations outside the doors. What struck me was really that he was a bit of a go-getter. He was certainly a go-getter who wanted to throw himself into everything that he did. Certainly, with his diagnosis of cancer, I think I got to see an enormous courage in how he battled that.

I know that a lot has been said of his Twitter account, which says that he was no-one special, but certainly—having had time to meet him and have conversations with him over the last four years since I have been in this place—he was someone special. I do not know many people who would be battling cancer at such a young age, having to go through that, who would still be able to get up to go to work in the morning and, more than that, want to go to work in the morning. Every time I spoke to him he was very keen to come back to work, to come in and do what he loved.

Also, he was not going to let the love of his life get away. He was determined to get married to Bec, and I think that shows once again that tenacity but also that love of life and determination that he showed in his work and in his life.

In terms of his commitment to raise money for the cause, once again that was something that he did—not in the more traditional way, I guess, but in his unique way that he always demonstrated, a way that really fitted into always keeping true to himself, which was another thing that I certainly noticed.

He was also a young man who liked to have fun. I was not on the 2007 campaign bus, but, while a lot of the journalists have kept under wraps what happened on that bus, it does sound as if Peter was the entertainment on that and had a lot of fun with everyone on it.

I believe that he showed so much courage and commitment and, from talking and hearing about his family, that they—and obviously his wife, Bec—also showed such courage and commitment to fighting cancer. I offer my deep condolences to Bec and to Peter's family and wish them the best one can hope for in these difficult times.

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:07): On indulgence—Peter Veness was just 27 when he died. At 27 years of age, we are told, the world is at your feet, you are learning constantly in your chosen career, you may be meeting or sharing the early years with the love of your life or you may be travelling the globe. Dying should not be on this list. Peter left behind a young wife, a loving family and many, many friends. His eulogy was filled with loving family memories, funny stories and his love of his journalistic career.

Peter Veness covered a lot in his short yet accomplished career as a journalist. Described by his colleagues as someone who embodied many of the best things about the craft of journalism, and renowned for writing about the plight of the common man, it really made his heart sing. Peter had a knack of bailing up politicians and asking questions few dared to raise. He wrote on elections, political spills and scandals. However, he was once quoted as saying that he believed the best story he ever wrote was about a farmer doing it tough, a story he got by striking up a conversation with a random guy at a pub out in the bush.

Journalism is a tough job. It has long hours, late nights and early mornings. You are often perceived as the bad guy with a habit of elaborating the truth and being heartless. Peter Veness was a truth teller and he had a big heart. The Nationals leader described Peter as one of those genuine nice guys who always had a beaming smile and time for a chat and laugh, but he always had a job to do, a job he did very well.

Peter was a regional boy. He went to school in Batemans Bay and completed high school in Gilgandra before starting his communications degree at Charles Sturt University in Bathurst. Peter then started out at the Bathurst Western Advocate newspaper in 2004 and remained there until he became a member of the Australian press gallery in 2006. He joined Australian Associated Press in April of that year. He was described as eager and tenacious, and these attributes served him well when he fought the good fight, a long battle lasting three painful years. Peter wrote poignantly of his illness in 2009. In this he emphasised his love for his then fiancee and soon-to-be wife, Bec—the woman of his dreams, as he called her. He wrote of how he intended to relive a fond childhood memory and I quote:

I have recurring memories of being dunked by waves on the NSW south coast where I spent my childhood nearly drowning and spitting out sand.

Despite the pain in my back from a biopsy on my spine, I am going to drive down the mountains from Canberra to the sand and let one giant wave hit me, drag me under the white foam and bash me.

It's a silly memory, I know, but I would regret not doing it if it is to be for one last time.

Sadly, Peter succumbed to his rare brain cancer on the night of 15 January 2012, taken too soon, far too young. His death reinforces the fragility of life and the fact that cancer does not discriminate. Vale Peter Veness; may you rest in peace.

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (12:10): I rise today to offer my condolences to a well-loved and respected member of the community of this place, Peter Veness, known to his mates as Pete. I also particularly rise here today to offer the condolences of a member of my staff, Julian Leembruggen, who was a dear and very close friend of Pete and would often be in Canberra over the term of their friendship, which goes back to university days, and spent many times with Peter, particularly during the last period of his life.

I was privileged to attend the service in Pete's remembrance and honour in Canberra a few weeks ago, joining other colleagues, including the Prime Minister. I am sure Pete would have been very pleased to see so many of his journalist friends in church. It would have been something that I am sure he would have been encouraging them all to do in his own way. The way I think he would have done that most of all would be through the example of his own life, because we all know those actions speak louder than any words we might say ourselves.

I wasn't a close friend of Peter's but I met him as many people in this place had—that is, on the doors of Parliament House. I think one of the great tributes that were made to Peter at the service was that, despite the hard questions and the strange angles they came from at times, which were always based on the good solid research that Pete was well known for—as the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, it was something for which the Director-General of ASIO commented favourably on him—it was without malice and it was without guile; it was nothing more than just a very professional person who believed in what he was doing and was seeking to get straight answers from all of us.

Pete joined the parliamentary press gallery in 2006 and quickly established himself as a talented and eager journalist. His enthusiasm and old-school style, Julian tells me, won over his colleagues and earned the respect of politicians of all stripes. I think we can all attest to that, and the tributes that have been flowing in this place back that up. Like many members, I encountered him on the doors and occasionally we would have the opportunity to chat afterwards. One particular occasion I had the opportunity, particularly as he went through his illness, to talk about some of the things that were going on in his own life at that time and how he was dealing with them, as I know many people in this place had the privilege to do—and they have said so in this place today.

There have been many tributes to Pete. Phil Hudson, the president of the press gallery, said Pete's 'great determination to live life to its fullest' and his refusal to give in was an inspiration to many of his colleagues. The Prime Minister commended his 'fight for life with every fibre of his being'. The Acting Leader of the Opposition at the time of Peter's passing remembered Pete as 'one of those genuinely nice guys who always had a beaming smile and a time for a chat and a laugh'. The AAP editor-in-chief, Tony Gillies, said Pete confronted the gravity of his illness early and 'stood defiant, disarmingly talking about his own prospects in such a matter-of-fact way that was often delivered with a sense of humour'. Pete's father, David, gave a very poignant portrait of his son as someone who was not only a dedicated journalist but also someone who, in his short life, made a significant contribution to humanity, especially by teaching people how to love. I can think of no greater commendation than that. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs said earlier in this place, Pete was known for who he was, not what he did, and for the substance of the man. That is something that I think we would all aspire to. Pete certainly lived that. For his father to be able to say that of a son, or for any parent to be able to say that of a child, would fulfil any parent's greatest aspiration for their children. It is such a tragedy that he had to say it so soon in Pete's young life. For those of us who had the opportunity to meet him and get to know him a bit, it was one of the hard things to understand—he was only 27. A fellow such as this, who had developed such wisdom, such insight, and such fullness of personality, was still at such a young age. Therein lies the great tragedy of this story. The potential, the opportunity, the contribution, the love, the care, the relationships—these are the things that we mourned when we gathered in Canberra just a few weeks ago.

I recall most vividly one thing after walking out of what was an absolutely inspirational service. The tributes were great, they were often witty—you would expect that; his mates were journos. They know how to write and they know how to put words together, and they certainly did on that day, and they did a wonderful job in giving testimony to their mate. But the one thing that came out of that story, which is such a sad story, was the issue of hope. It is such a refreshing thing in this day and age that in the midst of such tragedy you can walk out of a service such as that and reflect on the fact that there is hope. Pete embodied hope; he embodied hope against all circumstances. He lived for hope. He triumphed hope and championed it every single day that he cherished in those few remaining years that he had left.

His family and friends will attest that Pete was a generous, kind young man who, while often brash and uncompromising, was innately generous and selfless. This spirit helped Pete fight with a fierce will to live and a resolute hope that treatments, tests, setbacks and bad news rarely dampened. It was a spirit that, even in the midst of his own suffering, drove him to help others, such as raising funds for youth cancer charities like the Warwick Foundation, and famously involving the growth of perhaps the most confronting facial hair—Julian writes here—ever to grace these halls; I can well remember that beard and the shaving of it on a particular occasion here in Canberra. Hundreds of mourners said farewell to Pete at St John's Anglican Church, and it was good to be there amongst them.

At that service, reference was made to an article that Pete wrote in 2009, and it was a very honest article. Pete's honesty, in the little I knew of him, was incredibly confronting but it was like the sword that divides sinew and flesh. His honesty penetrated. In this article he wrote about his cancer. He said, 'I pray at night, asking my God the seeming simplest of questions: will you save me?' In that article he wrote, 'I have not heard back yet.' In this piece Pete wrote, in the midst of a struggle, about his will to live a life of no regrets. This is something that he not only wrote but lived every day of his illness. At Pete's funeral, the Reverend Margaret Campbell comforted all of us in attendance with her homily. She told us that Pete would be the first person to tell you that God did not cause his cancer. God does not send us suffering to teach us things, but in suffering we can sure learn. We learn that we are not invulnerable and that life surely ends in death from the first breath we take. We learn that sometimes we have no control over the things that happen to us but we do have control over how we react to them. Put simply, we all choose how to respond to life. She went on to say:

I can tell you that before he died, he did hear back. Pete knew that through God's love he was saved, he was upheld, he was sure of the promise of eternal life, and was still able to give God glory until his last days.

It is a tribute to Pete's spirit and an inspiration for us to stand for our beliefs and pursue what is right and fight for what is worth fighting for. Pete is survived by his wife and inspirational life partner Bec, his parents David and Cheryl and brother Tim and sister Lara. He will be fondly remembered by all of them, I am sure, all the days of their lives and he will be fondly remembered by his good mates including Julian Leembruggen and others in the gallery and all of those who comforted him and were inspired by him over his last days. I am sure all my colleagues here and everyone in this place will join with me in offering them our great comfort, with a sense of sympathy and regret, while at the same time joining in that sense of hope that was so evident in that service.

Of all the tributes, I think the one Pete would have valued most greatly is the one given to him as he met his heavenly father, who would have said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (12:21): Sometimes the people from the Central West of New South Wales, like all Australians, look at Canberra from time to time, sometimes to see if their local member is doing his job and for other reasons. The Central West of New South Wales, and Bathurst in particular, has spent a few years looking down here because they had someone here of whom they were very proud, and that was obviously Peter Veness.

Peter started his journalistic career at the Bathurst Advocate. He was there from 2004 to 2006. One of the reasons locals were proud of Peter was that they knew he was respected, and he was a very young person to have reached the heights of journalism that he did in the parliamentary gallery. It takes most people a lifetime to do that; he did it in a very short time. His family, who still live in Bathurst, are wonderful people. Pete's father, David, managed the RSL in Bathurst until recently. The way they took finding out that Pete had that rare form of brain tumour was as amazing as the way in which Peter himself dealt with it. Quite apart from his ability as a journalist and his ability to talk straight to everyone regardless of their place in politics, what he wrote—live a life of no regrets, don't die wondering—was amazing stuff. It was incredible for someone who knew he had nowhere to go. It does not change the fact that the last thing he wrote, if I recall correctly, was that he still wanted to live. I guess it is a touch of reality that most of us who are a lot older than he was probably have not retained anything like the respect he gained in a very short time. It was not just about politics; it was about good and accurate reporting—which does not always happen. I think all of us would say that. I think he set a standard not just for us; he set a standard that those in the gallery, some of whom are a lot older than him, could take note of. The whole of the region will join me in offering our condolences to David and Cheryl and particularly to his wife, Bec.

Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (16:01): On indulgence, I first came to know Peter Veness on the doors of Parliament House. For those outside this building, doors are a bit of a strange ritual. You walk out the front of Parliament House to a press pack that asks you questions about any issue of the day. Pete Veness was the man who asked the hardest questions. He would often be on the fringes of the press pack and he would call out at you, not about what was on the front page of the paper necessarily but about what he thought was the most important issue. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and given a few months to live, and he nearly made it to three years. In that time as he worked as a journalist, Pete knew that his life was short and he needed to do what he could to make it count. His questions were punchy, penetrating and straight to the point, as the best journalists are. I remember he said to me after one particularly bruising doors session: 'This place has lost its spontaneity. Doors used to be about the opening of the car doors; now it is about the opening of the parliamentary doors.' All I could reply was: 'Pete, I have come out here to face your questions. I want to be prepared.'

I talked to Pete about this when I went to see him in the Clare Holland House hospice towards the end of his life. I am not sure how much he understood. He was going in and out of sleep at the time. With him was the little blue teddy bear and the crucifix that he held in his hand. As you do in these circumstances, I just talked and told him about how much he had influenced me in the short time we had known one another. And it was a short innings. Peter Veness passed away aged 27, far too young for anyone to be taken from us. His funeral was a fitting send-off. AAP journalist Adam Gartrell spoke about how Peter embodied the best of the craft of journalism. He told the story of Peter Veness writing a yarn that Peter thought was the best one he had ever written. It was about a farmer doing it tough. The only reason he got the story was by striking up a conversation with a random guy in a pub in the bush. Gartrell said:

That was pure Pete. He may have written about elections, political spills and scandals, but writing about the plight of the common man was what really made his heart sing.

We heard from his wife Bec Veness, who with extraordinary strength gently scolded Pete for having failed to prepare some words and said, 'He didn't lose. He kicked cancer's arse every day for almost three years.' Warwick Newell told a splendid story of one of his big nights out with Pete. He said, 'I lost Pete after a big night out. He called me a few hours later from a bus in Bankstown in a frenzied and unexplained search for Paul Keating.' All of us erupted into laughter. That was one of the many sides to Pete Veness.

The service itself finished in the most poignant of ways, with the parliamentary press gallery forming a guard of honour from the door of the church through to the gate at St John's. It was all the more poignant because on the back of the funeral service program was a picture of Pete and Bec coming out of the same door of the church just a few years earlier, after their marriage.

One of my favourite obituaries of Pete Veness was that written by Chris Johnson, a Canberra Times journalist, who really got to know Pete because they were in adjacent offices in the press gallery and were both inveterate music lovers. Chris wrote in his obituary that Pete Veness was:

A larrikins' larrikin by any reckoning. Loud and boisterous, yet with a heart as big as his cheeky grin.

Chris told the story that Pete, who appeared to me an extremely confident journalist, once confided to him, 'Do you know what a big deal it is for me to be in this gallery? I'd better not stuff it up.' But you never got that sense of fragility from Pete Veness. You got a sense of somebody who had earned his right to be here and who did his job in the best spirit of the press gallery.

Chris disclosed that Peter Veness sometimes wrote music reviews under a pseudonym, the name Sal Caulfield, combining Sal Paradise, from On the Road, and Holden Caulfield, from TheCatcher in the Rye. That, of course, sent me on a hunt for some of the reviews written by Sal Caulfield, where you see some of the best of Pete Veness's writing. Here he is in the Canberra Times on 8 May 2008 writing under his pseudonym about an album by Cog, Sharing Space:

Producer Sylvia Massey left plenty of air among the almost apocalyptic electronic twitches that dart around Flynn Gower's pleading, pounding voice in the verses. The air evaporates when the chorus arrives pushing the listener back with sheer volume and urging the ear forward in anticipation at the same moment.

It is beautiful writing—another reason, I think, so many of us are so sad that Pete is not here to contribute to the great craft of journalism for many decades yet. He worked to the end. As recently as 3 November last year he wrote for AAP the story of the killing in Afghanistan of Captain Bryce Duffy, Corporal Ashley Birt and Lance Corporal Luke Gavin. He wanted to keep on working to the end and he did, and he continued to make a great contribution.

Journalist Peter Martin reminded me that one of the things that some of the tributes to Peter Veness have passed over is how devout he was. At the service, Peter read psalm 23, The Lord is My Shepherd, and he pointed out to me that Peter Veness was the chair of St John's Anglican Church council and he was studying theology part time at St Mark's. Peter Martin suggested that in preparing these brief remarks I should speak to Margaret Campbell, the assistant minister at St John's. I spoke to Margaret this morning and she said that I should remind the House of what a man of great faith Peter Veness was, that he took great comfort in the promise of eternal life and that he was there in the church every Sunday. Margaret said, 'Peter Veness challenged us, and we will really miss one of our own.' I too will miss him. Doors will never be the same without him, and this place is a little poorer for his passing.

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (16:09): I would just like to say to the member for Fraser, whose speech preceded this one, what a heartfelt and well-meaning speech that was. I pass my congratulations on to him because he has summed up Peter Veness extremely well.

I did not know Peter Veness all that well, but the reason I stand here today to add to the comments about his life, which was so tragically cut short, is that Peter went out of his way to give me advice and to give me the benefit of his wisdom when he did not need to. As a matter of fact, I do not think he really needed to do anything when it came to me. But he did that. He came into my office on two occasions and spent over an hour with me. The first was just telling me about the doors and what you should look out for when you do it—what the traps are when journalists try to interview you, especially the types of things that he was trying to get out of members that would make the news. He did that really out of the goodness of his heart and also because, when it came to policy, we shared a common interest. That was the other hour that he spent with me. That was talking about trade policy.

Peter was a journalist who knew, understood and followed trade policy. He was pretty rare in that regard. I had a very insightful discussion with him about where global trade policy was at and the pitfalls. We could talk World Trade Organisation, we could talk Doha Round and he understood all the language that went with trade.

Once again, he went out of his way afterwards to always make sure he flicked to me the latest developments which were coming out of Geneva—anything that was occurring with regard to Australia's bilateral free trade agreements, whether they be with Korea. I would note—and I think Pete predicted this—that the free trade agreement negotiations with South Korea have stalled once again. But that would be the sort of thing and the sort of advice he would flick to me: 'Have you seen this? Have you seen what's going on?' There was no need for him to do that. There was no need for him to sit down and give me the benefit of his wisdom about the doors. But he did so out of the goodness of his heart.

We touched briefly on his illness and how he was dealing with it. I just remember the incredible strength with which he was able to talk about it and the resolve he had in dealing with it. He was truly someone we should all admire for his strength of character and the way he dealt with, for three years, a debilitating illness that was to cost him his life.

I pass on my condolences to his wife, Bec. I say to her that I am sorry that I could not make the funeral. I would have liked to have been there because of the goodness that he showed me, but I could not be. I would just like to say: rest in peace, Peter Veness.

Related Posts

. Peter Veness, the hidden parts

. Celebrate Peter Veness