Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Walking into this chamber representing the people of Melbourne Ports to serve the Commonwealth of Australia has been the greatest honour of my life, other than when my beloved Amanda, who's sitting up there in the gallery, agreed to become my wife. We're a bit eccentric. We were married in this building just after Labor was last elected.
After 100 years, I'll be the last member for Melbourne Ports. For two decades, Australian Labor gave me this privilege. I owe it and the people of my electorate everything. I gave the job my all. People sometimes disagree with me—well, not just sometimes—but few have doubted my sincerity or diligence to Melbourne Ports. I hope it was enough. I couldn't have done more.
For two decades, my precious wife, Amanda, my kids, Byron and Laura, who I am so proud of, who are sitting in the gallery, my brother Simon and his wife, Miriam, our wider family, led by David and Peppy Sherr, my friends and staff, and party workers and volunteers have been there for me.
Could I have persevered without the Pinskiers, Kimberley Kitching, Sylvia and Maurie Freeman, Moishe Gordon, Ari Suss, the Zajacs and Nathan Shafir or my dear mate the late Con Sciacca? Could I have persevered without the friendship of Bunna Walsh the former member for Albert Park, lately Martin Foley, and Andrew Landeryou—a blood brother from university days who has always been there for me? Without all of them, without their support, their love, their belief in me and most importantly in the cause of Labor, or at least the Australian variety of it, I would not have been preselected four times or seven times re-elected. My name's on the office door, but I've always been conscious of who put me there. I'm deeply, almost spiritually, satisfied to feel that I've repaid the opportunity I've been given by my loved ones, my comrades, my local community and my country.
There are so many young people who've started their political life in my office, something I'm particularly proud of. I'm pleased that so many of my loyal and talented staff are here today in the gallery. How lucky I am that two of my Praetorians—Tonya Stevens, returned especially from Germany, and Jamie Bingham, who came back from Spain—to help me with the last eight months of transition. And young Alon has turned out to be a real gun in data and social media. God bless Kristen Barry—the Dee Dee Myers of Australia—my dear friend from the Griffo days, who moved from Sydney to Melbourne just in the nick of time to help with the last few months. A learned and respected Australian rabbi James Kennard once called me a yashar—literally 'straight'. Okay, I'm a bit unbending. Sometimes I see issues as right over wrong, however inconvenient or costly it's been to my political advancement.
Since I joined young Labor 45 years ago, I've fought the good fight to ensure our party is united, centrist, progressive, economically responsible but principle driven, internationalist but patriotic—a fight that good people like Bill Shorten and the rest of this party have won. I'm an unfashionable internationalist. I stand up for human rights here and around the world provided the cause is principally non-violent. I'm here for the Kurds, the Armenians, the Uygurs, the Tibetans, the Dafuris, the Baha'is and prisoners in North Korean concentration camps. Yes, I happily wear the hair shirt, the member for lost causes. Some have tried, like Ulysses, to strap themselves blindfolded to the mast to avoid my siren calls about Beijing's aggression as it laps our fateful shores. No-one has had to alert me to confront rightist extremism in the virulent forms into which it frequently mutates. I've successfully sued LaRouchites. One Nation's James Ashby I long made infamous before his current disgraceful behaviour. Even a bigoted local Liberal, the Basil Fawlty of Middle Park, I forced his expulsion from the local Liberal Party.
I remember my first speech in this chamber like it was yesterday. Then, as now, Labor was on the wrong side of this chamber. Australian Labor distinctly, unlike other Labour parties, is not interested in the purity of powerlessness. We're here to make a difference and to make the world a better place.
I had worked for this parliament before the construction of this grand cathedral of democracy partially buried under a hill. In the old House, I worked for the late Barry Cohen, of blessed memory, and the equally brilliant Alan Griffiths. Their encouragement and nurturing fuelled my passion to serve.
Soon after coming here, I understood the wisdom of Paul Keating's aphorism that, when you get past the mezzanine floor, past rivalries melt away. So, prior to the passage of marriage equality, every year for 10 years, Anthony Albanese and I moved legislation for the equal treatment of same-sex couples under Commonwealth legislation—good working with you, Albo.
For years, since being elected in 1998, almost every week I've been tasked to host some international delegation. I take them to the little-used balconies on the second floor to gaze at resplendent Canberra. How proud my folks, Margaret and Fred, would have been to see me standing under that massive Australian flag.
Nothing prepared me for the day I was elected. In my first speech, I remembered my grandparents Margarette and Bruno Danziger, both murdered by the Nazis, and my presence here today is proof that the final solution failed. All those wog kids like me who are now members of parliament on both sides intrinsically appreciate that our presence also says something about the pluralistic, inclusive nature of most Australians. We all made it. As my brother, Simon, says, 'Australia, what a country!'
Let me skip through the years. Fifteen years after election, Julia Gillard picked me as junior arts minister and Tony Burke kindly let me introduce my only piece of legislation, major changes to the Australia Council. But then Prime Minister Gillard sent me to Germany to supervise, with Indigenous elders, the return of stolen remains, a process ironically handled better in Germany than in France or Great Britain. It was the most poignant moment of my days as an MP, representing our country in Germany. Our respected ambassador ambushed me. It was Anzac Day. He insisted that I, not he, was to speak at the ceremony at the Commonwealth war graves.
Imagine me in Berlin, in the cemetery, with our Indigenous friends, in front of 700-plus diplomats, military attaches and soldiers of the Bundeswehr. I know that this parliament and Australians, who have always stood for freedom, would be pleased that, in a reunited German capital, I looked them straight in the eye and reminded them of the painful contrast between the treatment of two artillerymen. The first was my Australian grandfather Lieutenant John Peek, 4th Division Artillery Column of the 11th Brigade, who fought there in Amiens and all the way till the end in the first war. He was treated with honour by our country. By contrast my German grandfather Hauptmann Bruno Danziger, Iron Cross, First Class, 151st regiment of artillery, whose epaulettes are all that I have to remind me of him, was deported and murdered in Auschwitz by his own country. So an Australian minister reminded the current German state of that contrast, and that is a victory for all of us—all of us in Australia and all of those who suffered. As I left the Commonwealth cemetery, our Indigenous brothers and sisters were sitting at the gate, and they were smiling at me. One of them said to me, 'We know where you're coming from, brother.'
I've never had illusions that being an advocate of my electorate's support for the Jewish state would be fashionable. I was warned of the perils of being stereotyped by the usual suspects as a Jewish MP overly concerned with the fate of Israel. I wrestled with that advice but, given my background, not for long. The truth is that, as Edmund Burke said in the days before gender-inclusive language became the norm:
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
In this building, on both sides, in my own party, on its left and right, in my own local community—which is quite progressive and more interested in Middle Eastern cuisine than Middle Eastern politics—it's not always politically convenient to stand up for the region's sole democracy. They're having one of their all-out democratic dust-ups just before we have ours, and I wish them well. It cost me votes; hopefully, it attracted some too. Certainly the psephological evidence is that it did. But the truth is that, while everyone in this chamber is under an obligation to care about winning support, and I did, I would rather have lost every election, every preselection and every internal party contest if winning meant I had to corrupt my beliefs to the prejudices of the few who hate stiff-necked Jews like me. I've lost many platforms because I don't believe in the ethos 'whatever it takes'.
Charlie Wilson was an American congressman who was able to make his imprint on history from the backblocks. Through my 21 years, there have been many events where I've felt I have successfully waged Charlie Wilson's war and made that difference. Some will find it eye-glazing, but for seven years I waged a struggle, sometimes behind enemy lines, mostly without leadership approval, to free the Electoral Commission to allow it to automatically update the electoral roll. It gives me immense satisfaction that two million more Australians will vote in this election than would if we'd allowed the older system of snail-mail validation to persist—Charlie Wilson's war.
To Ukrainian Australians it was vital that this parliament resolve recognition of the Holodomor—the deliberate mass starvation of seven million Ukrainians, terribly described by Robert Conquest in his book, The Great Terror. Parliament passed a motion that I was honoured to propose. And Poland's former foreign minister Radek Sikorski made me a minor Polish count in recognition of 30 years of campaigning—
Mr Khalil interjecting—
Don't laugh, Peter. I've got the medallion; I can show it to you! It was for 30 years of campaigning for the restitution of Poland's freedom and independence—Charlie Wilson's war.
My decade-long campaign to free Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim will only be truly successful when he assumes the prime ministership, and I hope it's soon. I'm so proud of the fact—and it's so good for all of Australia—that he fondly remembers the 62 Australian members and senators and their major act of international solidarity to demand his freedom.
Again, I've championed my friends from Darfur, the oppressed African Muslim people of Western Sudan. The record will show I've made more speeches on their behalf and schlepped them to more meetings at international conferences than I can remember—Charlie Wilson's war.
And who can forget Rebiya Kadeer and the brutally oppressed Uygur people of East Turkestan, occupied by China in 1949. After Beijing tried to wreck Ms Kadeer's appearance at the Melbourne International Film Festival for her film, The 10 Conditions of Love, 6,000 people held a foot-stamping tribute to her in the Melbourne town hall which I co-hosted. It created such international publicity against the authoritarian oppression of the Uygur people that The New Yorker paid tribute to our solidarity in Australia with Ms Kadeer and the Uygurs, with the headline 'We are all Melbournian'.
I've always stood with the Baha'is, so terribly abused in Iran. In 2009 my little electoral office organised in Melbourne the ninth international conference on human rights in North Korea. Given my background, it was my duty to remember that there are 300,000 people in concentration camps, even as we speak, in North Korea. It was a special act of memory that I organised the first ever publication of a map detailing the names and places of these concentration camps which expose the Kim regimes for what they are. The map was published in The New York Times.
Last but not least, there's my 20 years of devotion to the cause of the peaceful Buddhist people of Tibet, many of whom are sitting in the gallery. We took the first Australian parliamentary delegation to the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala. I would've waged Charlie Wilson's war alone for that moment in Dharamshala where the Dalai Lama asked me to speak to 5,000 saffron-clad Tibetan monks and their families. My dear friend Tenzin Atisha is here in the gallery, as is His Holiness's representative Lhakpa Tshoko—I tell you: I'm not a Buddhist, but working for the Dalai Lama's vision of a peaceful, autonomous 'third way' has given me more karma than anything that you've received in political support from me. Thank you.
Given the treatment of the Uygurs, the Tibetans, the Mongols, many dissidents, including Australian citizens unjustly jailed there, and Labor union dissidents, it's no wonder I was a happy warrior in my most current and minor official capacity as the deputy chairman of the Treaties Committee. It's no coincidence that the Senate disallowed the extradition treaty with China. I'll never regret using my capacity to articulate why it would be oppressive for Australia's 900,000 Chinese Australians to be threatened with the prospect of being extradited to the tender mercies of Beijing. Some will remember my campaigns on Huawei and other Charlie-Wilson and Don-Quixote tilts at windmills. Actually, with Huawei being banned from the NBN and 5G, it seems that someone knocked over those windmills!
Nor was I the apple of the eye of the former foreign minister Julie Bishop. I placed an enormous electronic billboard in St Kilda, knocking her government's romance with Iran, but I'm proud of the fact that I forced the Turnbull government to hold an inquiry into the lifting of some of the government's sanctions on Iran despite Iran's notorious behaviour around the world. The committee conducted the inquiry, which was critical of the government's approach in lifting sanctions without adequate safeguards.
Tomorrow we will welcome the new US Ambassador to this place. I've known the last seven US ambassadors to Australia. Anyone who reads my time line knows that I'm no big fan of the current US President. But whether it's early rock 'n' roll—in particular, Chuck Berry—the better products of Hollywood or the civilised debate in the high-end US media, we need our friendship with the United States. Navigating our relationship with America is a basic bottom line for an island continent like Australia. Democracies need to stick together. And I pay tribute to the US Charge' d'Affaires, Jim Caruso, who is in the gallery, for the fantastic work he has done in cementing relationships between our two great countries.
I leave parliament, after nearly 20 years, a happy warrior, with my party in the best hands I've seen it. We have a well-led team, and Labor will, if elected, have the most accomplished and gender-balanced ministries in the history of the Federation. The immortal Australian actor Leo McKern, as Rumpole of the Bailey at his supposed retirement party, found his treatment so felicitous that he denied any suggestion he was leaving chambers. He accepted the clock he was being given as a moving tribute as evidence of how much they needed him. Like Rumpole, part of me desperately wants to stay. But I know it's my time. I will be the last member for Melbourne Ports. It's pleasing that my friend and former staffer Josh Byrnes, who subsequently served Premier Andrews, has stepped up, and I hope he'll succeed me in the new seat of Macnamara. So I go out under my own steam, with a successor I approve, and I believe Labor will hold the seat. How many in politics win a trifecta like that?
Bill Shorten's Labor Party—his leadership—is a vindication of every fight, every victory and every sacrifice I've experienced on the battlefield of Labor politics since, as a 17-year-old, I wandered into the legendary final election rally at the St Kilda Town Hall in 1972. We can never be complacent, but this party has never been stronger, never more united, in all my years of observation. And I don't say this lightly; I've been through many struggles over the last 35 years. I believe the member for Maribyrnong will win the next election. He'll be a Prime Minister in the mould of Bob Hawke, who set a high standard that has not been matched since. In Bill, we have the last great hope in international politics for the success of social democracy around the world.
I feel a deep nostalgia for this place, and all it stands for, before I walk out the doors for the last time. As I pack the boxes and farewell the hardworking people who keep this grand building working—the attendants; the drivers; library researchers like Geoff Wade; and committee staff like Jerome Brown, Clarissa Surtees and Dr Anna Dacre—I feel a longing for all the unfinished business I leave here. Although I moved a first reading of the Magnitsky Act, it is not enshrined in our law. The government has come to favour having a legislative device for pushing back against corruption and human rights abuses by authoritarian countries. I say to this parliament that Magnitsky would allow us—like the US, Canada and the UK—to tell states like Russia that you can't kill 38 Australians and get away with it. Unfortunately we seem to have run out of time.
Facebook's live streaming of a white supremacist snuff movie after Christchurch is the latest excess of an out-of-control online world where social media has been weaponised by both malevolent and anonymous trolls to threaten violence and defame opponents. Worse, it has been used by states in information wars, in interfering in the recent US and French elections. My suggestion to this parliament, which I hope you take up in legislation, is that social media must have real identities behind each Twitter, Facebook and Instagram account, and that will balance the world out. Then they will be treated like the normal media and be subject to the same rules of all countries, as they should be.
Our country, in my view, is still unprepared for the challenge from Beijing. But I've seen such resistance and such united action across the aisles, and in the media, that I have every confidence that, in the future, we'll handle that problem. As the clock races down, can you see I miss parliament already. I miss the opportunity to help set the nation's agenda. I miss all of you already. There's a nobility of purpose to this building, even when debate is at its most robust or the behaviour, and some attacks, are lower than community expectations of us.
But there's a nobility of purpose that you don't hear the press gallery talking about much, which is a shame, because that nobility extends to them too. We're all here, a band of brothers and sisters, serving the country we love and the people who make it so worth loving. And, as I leave, I hope these words from Theodore Roosevelt are remembered by those serving in the next parliament, the 46th Parliament—they might sustain you in the lonely nights, the cold winters, after the crushing character assessments that come so freely to you from the fourth estate, the opposition and even your colleagues:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
You know, I don't think I've changed one iota since I was that 17-year-old who walked the whole length of Balaclava Road from my grandmother's house in Carnegie—where Bill used to live too—to attend that sweaty, sultry 1972 'It's Time' rally in St Kilda Town Hall. Surely my humble career shows that each of us, each parliamentarian, can make a difference. We can strive to make this wonderful 'Straya' a better place.
Now I utter my final parliamentary words to Bill and the team—go, as Honest Abe said to his generals, and get me a victory!