Wednesday, 4 May 2016
After so many lengthy careers that we have been seeing off, in this place, over the last week, it feels a little self-indulgent to be delivering a valedictory after such a short stint in this place. But I feel that I owe it to the people who elected me, three years ago, to give an account of myself and I cannot resist putting my two bobs worth in to the general philosophical issues that face us.
I give my thanks to the punters of Perth for backing me. It truly has been a privilege to work with you and represent you in this place. I like to think that I have thrown everything at ensuring you have a voice in this place, and it is great to have had a role representing our great state of Western Australia more generally. I believe I have done that enthusiastically, sometimes to the chagrin of some of my colleagues from other states, but that is absolutely necessary.
Why am I going? Some of you will be aware that I was happily ensconced as the mayor of Vincent when I was asked to stand for Perth, shortly before the last election—after the much respected Stephen Smith unexpectedly retired. I was a little hesitant, but I agreed to do it for a number of reasons. Firstly, I felt I owed it to the party, which had given me great opportunities, to make sure that we held that critical seat of Perth and that we could rebuild our party in Western Australia. Secondly, I knew that dealing with climate change was the great moral challenge of our time and that was at the very heart of the contest at that election. I did manage to hold onto that seat for Labor, and I can take some pride in being part of the team that has seen off a great—but certainly not the only—political obstacle to meeting that moral challenge of climate change. I also take some pride in the campaigns against some of the very dark places to which this country was being taken in the first two years of the current government and in our campaigns to see off much of the destructive 2014 budget. These battles are not over. It is extraordinary that last night's budget made no reference and no commitment to tackling climate change. How can you have an economic plan that ignores the greatest economic threat to our country? Given this, if I had been at the start of my political career I would have been very excited at the opportunities that I have been given.
You can never complain about being given the great honour of being elected to this place. I absolutely love the job when I am out and about, but I do not think I have been able to influence policy to the extent that I need to keep my motivation up. So I will hand on the baton to the very able Labor candidate, Tim Hammond, who will have more time to patiently build up influence in this place. I am certain that Tim will join the long line of members for Perth, who include, in my lifetime, Tom Burke, Joe Berinson, Ric Charlesworth and, of course, Stephen Smith, all of whom have served in this place with great distinction. I am very pleased that we are fielding a fantastic Labor team at the next election, led by Patrick Dodson, of whom we are also very proud. I will be working very hard to see Anne Aly, Matt Keogh and Tammy Solonec—all people I highly regard—elected to this place.
I do want to say that I think there is a problem with the way we distribute power within this parliament and within the major parties. I have to be frank: often in this place it feels like one is just an extra in the pyramid-building scenes of that Ben Hurblockbuster—do you remember all those little people just rushing around? I am realistic. I absolutely understand there will always be a decision-making hierarchy, but I do believe that members should be considered more than just bums on seats. I do think that, even within our parliamentary system, there are other parliaments where members are accorded a greater and a stronger role. At the highest level—and I think this issue was raised by the member for Fremantle this afternoon—critical issues like war powers are issues where there should be engagement with the parliament. At a day-to-day level, there are parliamentary structures that could be so much better at giving members more of a role in this place, a greater role than being an extra. There are other parliaments, for example, where backbenchers can raise grievances with ministers that ministers must respond to, where bills undergo a consideration in detail process which is actually consideration in detail and where ministers actually respond to questions raised by members. Likewise with the estimates process, which, I have to say, in this place is a meaningless farce. We have delays in answering questions in writing and a culture of resisting the release of documents which make it very difficult to do the forensic work that enhances accountability. The committees, as advisory committees to the minister, really largely fail to provide any greater accountability in government. Just at the edges, there are a number of processes that could be changed to ensure that being a member in this place is more meaningful and to give more people the opportunity to participate. Of course, I believe a cultural change also has to be made across the party hierarchy to ensure that we respect all members and allow them to really share in the engagement in the contest of ideas in this place.
However, although I think the committees are a pale copy of what they should be under the Westminster process, they can help educate members about important matters. If you are on a committee, you get to see a great many people and details about this country that are important in ensuring that we know more about the community that we are representing. Under the right leadership, committees can create a collegiality across party lines. I think that collegiality is indeed very important if we are to persuade the public that this place is truly a forum for the contest of ideas and not just a bad rerun of Celebrity Survivor. We are going to have to do more to transform our parliament.
Outside our parliament, collaboration is the new norm. We all get up here in this place and we really like to talk about how we see collaboration and innovation occurring in our community and in the private sector, but we are very much, in my view, in danger of becoming irrelevant if we stick with our unreformed 20th century adversarial model. I know it is not easy to make profound structural changes to the way in which we do government, but, as we demand innovation and agility from the private sector and from the community generally, we must acknowledge that we need to change. We must acknowledge that we are simply not optimising the performance of those in this place and we are discouraging many other talented Australians of goodwill from joining us. We have stuck doggedly to structures devised more than a century ago, with an odd tweak here and there. Quite frankly, I think that we need a more radical makeover to enable us to meet the needs of our community. I accept that rethinking democracy is put at the very edge of political life. It is seen to be self-indulgent navel gazing, but I do not think it is. I sometimes think that we in political life are bit like the taxi industry—we are batting away attempts to reform our models and one day we will see ourselves blindsided by an Uber. We truly risk losing our community's commitment to democracy, unless we are able to do democracy better.
I do hope that the Parliamentary Friends of Democratic Renewal, which I co-convene with a very bipartisan Craig Laundy, will continue in some form, because we can do better and must do better. I want to particularly commend Luca Belgiorno-Nettis for his generous support of the new democracy movement. Although this is a somewhat unfashionable cause, I think it is one that is critical for us to address because we are going to have to do a lot better in dealing with the great challenges to our civilisation that will accelerate over the next 20 years. It is not just climate change; it is the new social landscape that technology and science is creating. It is an exciting time, generally, to be an Australian, but there are very real challenges, particularly in ensuring that, as more tasks—skilled and unskilled—can be performed without human labour, we think about how we distribute the fruits of that productivity. How are we going to be able to protect the dignity and the livelihoods of each citizen when the demand for labour radically declines? This will require a dramatic remake of our economic structures and big, big thinking. I am not sure that we have really commenced that task or that we are aware of how rapidly that challenge will come upon us.
There are many things I feel that I have left unfinished. One is the need to grasp the nettle in respecting that most Australians want the opportunity to die with dignity and that it is wrong that we deny them that right. I know that there are colleagues on all sides who will continue this fight, and I want to acknowledge the work in particular of Dr Richard Di Natale in that regard. I can assure him that I will be supporting this cause from the outside.
Let me also reflect on some of the happier stuff. Some of the best parts of the job have been getting around this beautiful country and seeing the creativity, enterprise and compassion of so many people. This has involved meeting people like the Rusca Brothers in the Northern Territory—Aboriginal entrepreneurs who are creating extraordinary opportunities for Aboriginal people to carve out independence while maintaining culture. It has also involved meeting Australian manufacturers like Hoffman Engineering and the Centre for Advanced Transport Engineering and Research in Perth—an outfit that produces ultrasonic rail testing equipment for around the world—and Redarc in Adelaide and Textor Technologies in Melbourne. All of them are exporting sophisticated, innovative products around the world. They give me great confidence that we can be a manufacturing nation. We need to support our manufacturers. Again, I am proud to have been on the team that has fought hard to ensure that we use our defence procurement to maximise capacity in building an Australian industry. We just need to make sure that Western Australia gets its fair share, and a state Labor government will help us wrest some of these projects back from South Australia. I am sure my colleagues, including the member for Forrest on the other side, will support us in that.
It has been brilliant to see the work of CSIRO and the science institutions around Australia. I would strongly encourage them to continue to have that engagement process with parliamentarians, where they come here and show us what can be done, for example, with the 3D printing of titanium and how we can produce aircraft parts in that way or how they can manufacture grain so that we can produce bread and other grain products that reduce the incidence of bowel cancer—and many, many more things. There are fantastic programs across the scientific field. This is what is going to build the necessary support in this place for investment in science and technology.
While travelling around I saw the great visions in our agricultural areas—Jack Burton at Yeeda, Bruce Cheung with Pilbara Beef at Pardoo Station, as well as the Kimberley Agriculture Investment group in Kununurra, who are doing amazing things. They are focusing on proper scientific research and strategic positioning within marketplaces to ensure that not only do we have an industry that produces commodities but that we value add and market Australian food, not just an Australian commodity.
I want to acknowledge the work that we have done with union members and their officials. We see a lot of negativity about our union leaders touted in this place; but, overwhelmingly, these are people who have a passionate commitment to Australian industry and an absolutely passionate interest in ensuring decency in the workplace. These are overwhelmingly good people, many of whom are also doing fantastic work in the international space. I want to give a special mention to the Transport Workers Union. I have a very strong and long history with the Vietnamese community, and I think it is fantastic to be able to see the work that the TWU has been doing with Vietnamese unions to help them gain justice and human rights for the people in Vietnam.
One of the great delights and indeed comforts as I depart has been to come to understand the extraordinary quality of so many of the colleagues that I am surrounded by—and I say this very genuinely. I am not the type given to howling, even though I am feeling a little bit emotional now. These are people who are smart, hardworking and, most importantly, deeply concerned about the people that they represent, who are fighting with intelligence and passion for an Australia which offers a place in the sun to every one of our children and who resist the growing economic and social inequality that will undermine the very fabric that is Australia. I want to give a very big shout-out to team 2013. It has been absolutely great to watch these people over the last three years grow so spectacularly—not in size, but in their ability to really show us their passion and commitment for their communities. I know that I leave this place in strong hands.
I have to say that I believe the structural reform in Labor around leadership has been a success. It has made us focus on policy to capture the public imagination rather than the constant search for a new messiah. It has contributed to Labor embracing gutsy meaningful policies that will take this country forward, particularly in climate change, industry and taxation reform.
I am also proud that Labor has committed to settle the boundary issue with Timor-Leste in accordance with international law. That is an issue very dear to my heart. I hope that we will soon achieve a similar positive change for another small, struggling nation and respectfully recognise the Republic of Macedonia.
To Bill and the team, I just want to assure you that I will be backing you 100 per cent, all the way to the next election. Your victory would be a good thing for this country.
Now I would like to give some brief thankyous. Everyone says this is a really dangerous thing, but just let me name a few people. It is a bit like being at school in this place sometimes. That is true in more ways than one, but one way is that you can make great friends by the random assignment of seats. I will particularly miss my fellow GI Geraldine, particularly through our period of immersion in the Army, Gai Brodtmann. You have been fantastic, Gai, and you are a good cook—it is much better than my takeaway. I will also miss my equal first favourite Muslim, Eddy Husic. I have put money on you at Ladbrokes, Eddy, so I am going to be following your career. There are many others, but it has been great to work with my fellow pro-Macedonian, Stephen Jones. I thank my fellow independent, Andrew Leigh, and Nova Peris—we are a little group. I also thank Melissa Parke for all her friendship and support. My most unexpected comrade is Joel Fitzgibbon. Is he here? Has he disappeared?
Opposition members: He's here.
I sometimes think he was the officially designated 'Alannah whisperer', assigned that very thankless task of keeping me in line.
Mr Husic interjecting—
That is right. I was his next job. Anyhow, whatever the motivation, Joel, I have really appreciated the advice and friendship. You and I share some very fringe views on things like foreign policy and also our never-to-be-forgotten Thelma and Louise trip through WA's wheat belt.