Thursday, 21 February 2019
Member for Jagajaga
Yesterday a Labor legend and a giant of Australian politics and policymaking spoke in this place for the last time. So I rise this evening to pay tribute to my friend the member for Jagajaga—the person who has done more than any other to drive the development and the implementation of social policy in this country and to expand and secure our social compact, always determined to do the most for and with the most in need. Often the description of politics as the 'art of the possible' evokes cynicism—not so for the member for Jagajaga. For her, this seemed to me a daily inspiration—a challenge to seize every chance to make progressive change and to ensure that all of us get every chance to lead lives of decency and dignity on our own terms.
In her first speech, she spoke of active citizenship—what it can mean to be Australian. She described this in the following terms: 'being able to share in the life of the community; it means enjoying a certain level of security; it means belonging'. This concept was threaded through that speech and through all of her time in this place. She went on, talking of a commitment to three things underpinning active citizenship: recognition of every person's equal worth; their right to work together to advance their interests; and their right to work, education and health services—an enduring formulation; the building blocks of a good society and matters she pursued consistently, thoughtfully and without a moments equivocation in this place.
Last night, she returned to this theme and concluded, 'The truth is we all need each other.' We do. That truth is social democracy's fundamental concern and our great mission in the Labor Party to build and sustain a society without the corrosions of discrimination and inequality. Over 23 years in this parliament the member for Jagajaga has set the standard the rest of us look up to and strive to live up to as a candidate representative, minister and shadow minister—without ego, focused always on others and the wider purposes of our role.
Her policy contribution is vast, incomparably so, and began long before her election. I think of her work for and with Brian Howe, that other giant of the Victorian Left. And then to reset Labor's sense of purpose and program in opposition during the Howard years, and again after the 2013 election when she literally rewrote our social policy framework. Her work drove so much of the agenda of the Rudd and Gillard governments—those things that enlarge us and which will endure: the Apology, lifting pensioners out of poverty, paid parental leave, founding the NDIS. She was always prepared to take tough decisions—always asking tough questions to ensure that the right answers would be found. Not that I always enjoyed her Socratic method! Jenny asking me, 'Why?' always made me nervous, but this practice taught me so much about the discipline of policymaking.
All of us in the Labor team owe the member for Jagajaga for her selfless leadership, through which she brought out the best in us. She was never too busy to help others or to support a colleague in tough times. Yesterday she spoke of camaraderie in this place. In my party, no-one has done more to foster this. In the Labor team, we enjoy a great sense of shared purpose, but clearly it hasn't always been this way. In this place, while I've been here, it's been Jenny who has reminded the rest of us about our wider responsibilities and the need to live up to the values we profess. Here too we all need each other. This surely is part of our wider challenge to restore trust and confidence in our politics and its institutions by adhering to her example.
It's been my extraordinary privilege to have known the member for Jagajaga and to have spent my two terms in this parliament alongside her. It's with the greatest of pride that I call her my friend. I will miss her terribly here, but I take consolation in three things: that she leaves on her terms, which is a rare privilege and a fitting one for her; that Kate Thwaites is such a wonderful candidate for Jagajaga; and that Jenny supported Kate's selection, which says almost all that needs to be said in this regard. I can't wait to get to work with her in this place.
I'm so excited by what's next for private citizen Macklin. I know that her contribution to our movement and our nation is far from done. So thanks, Jenny, for everything. For however long I'm here, I will always be mindful of your example to guide me through my responsibilities.