Thursday, 10 December 2020
Statements on Indulgence
Member for Lingiari
Last night we saw a very successful collaboration across the parliament to ensure two seats for the Northern Territory into the future. I want to thank the Prime Minister and the government for supporting the resolution, which was formulated by Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters, which was put to this parliament and got bipartisan support. It guarantees us in the long-term the seat in the Northern Territory. So I thought today might be a good day to do it, to come here and indicate that I'm about to roll the swag. I'm a bit of a relic. I'm the only one left in this parliament—Senate or House of Reps—from the Old Parliament House. I've taken the decision that I won't be contesting the next election. I was first elected 33 years ago. I've had 12 elections and 31 years now in the parliament, having lost, sadly—not my delightful day—an election in 1996 but was re-elected in 1998. It's been an absolutely enormous privilege to serve the people of the Northern Territory for that time. And I will continue to serve them until the next election.
Of course, Christmas and Cocos Islands were also part of the seat of the Northern Territory where I was the single member for four elections. They are also part of the seat of Lingiari, my current electorate, which, just to remind you, is 1.34 million square kilometres and half the Indian Ocean.
It's a great, great honour. There is no-one else in this chamber who will have watched this speech, but the great Mick Young stood at the dispatch box when he was retiring from parliament and talked about what an honour it is to serve in this parliament, and it is. It is a huge honour for all of us, no matter where we come from, to serve our communities, to serve the nation in this place. It's been my great honour, my great privilege, to be able to serve here as the member for the Northern Territory and the seat of Lingiari for 31 years now. I can't think of a greater honour, frankly. I don't think there's any better public services you can do than to speak, represent your electorate, represent your community and speak up on behalf of it. But it doesn't come without cost, as you well know.
This part will be very difficult for me. My family have shown love, loyalty, sacrifice, forbearance and given me support over such a long period. Elizabeth, my partner, gave birth to Frankie, our first daughter, a fortnight before the first election that I ran in—a fortnight! She was in good shape. Within a fortnight after the election, she was driving up the Stuart Highway with me as the new member for Northern Territory, showing off the child. Frankie is a wonderful young woman. We've had three other children since. Tom, Tess and Jack have not known anything other than me being a member of parliament. I have to tell you that that meant many, many years where I was only home eight or nine nights a month, such was the travel required. In fact, I did a bit of a calculation late last year and worked out that over the years I'd been flying in the air for two years. Ludicrous, but nevertheless true. So I want to say thank you, Elizabeth. I love you. I love you, Frank, Tom, Tess and Jack. You are a credit to your mother because she raised you. I was an observer—tolerated, but an observer.
I obviously want to thank my friends in the Labor Party and the trade union movement for their ongoing support, and the community for working with me over those many years and years still to come. My colleagues here in the caucus—I've had a lot of them.
An honourable member: Name them!
I might start! I've known a lot of them. Remember, I've seen come to the dispatch box now eight prime ministers, starting with Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, obviously. I had the great privilege to serve in this period. I'm unique in this place—well, we're all unique, but in this case, in the Labor Party—because I've been in government for 15 years and a member of the executive for 12 of them: six as a parliamentary secretary or assistant minister and six as a minister in various portfolios.
You all know what an honour it is to be able to work with some of the best people in this country, the people who serve us. So I take great pleasure in remembering all of those people I've worked with, including my own staff—electoral staff and ministerial staff. I remember two people in particular, and I want to remember them because they're dead: Carol Burke, who used to work for me in my Darwin office, and Jack Crosby, who worked for me. Both of them passed away in the last five years, but both of them gave sterling loyalty and service to the community as well as to me.
We don't get many opportunities to express the disappointments we sometimes have. Over the period, I've seen a bit of shenanigans. I've been shafted a bit, it won't come as a surprise. But I've hung in. I think the interesting thing about the parliamentary process and about our caucus is that, despite the differences we have, we have a common purpose. There are some who are pretty adventurous. We see it from time to time. They think they're the best thing since sliced bread. They last about two rounds of the revolving door, and then they're off. On the other hand, we have people of commitment on both sides of the parliament, and we need to recognise that commitment for what it is. My colleagues, I'm so pleased, so honoured, to be part of your team.
I contemplated talking about a whole range of historical events that have taken place over this period, but that will be for another time. There were some interesting times had. There have been some interesting times inside the Labor Party—I kept notes by the way!—especially when there have been leadership disputes. So I know who did what to whom and how often they did it. I've got very good records, so watch out, you mob!
I want to briefly pay tribute to the cooperation across the parliament on parliamentary committees. We have the adversarial politics across the chamber; we all understand that. But the truth of it is this parliament works really well in the committees. My colleagues who are here and who chair the committees that I've been on over the last little while will, I'm sure, agree that we've been blessed by the way in which the committee system has worked for us. I want to thank in particular an odd bloke, the member for Leichhardt. We're on a committee together. He keeps saying: 'What do you get when you get two Warrens together? A lot of rabbits.' I'm not sure about that. He's one in the spotlight. And I thank the member for Berowra for his companionship and good work. He's a good person.
My first election was an interesting experience, as they all are. I had to win a marginal seat off those opposite, which I did, ultimately. But the NT News was not helpful. One banner headline was 'Friend of Gaddafi'.
Also they called me a 'left-wing loony'. Well, they might be right! But prior to entering parliament I had the great honour and privilege at one period to work with the great Nugget Coombs, a really remarkable Australian. I worked with him and Maria Brandl, an anthropologist, on a project in the north-west of South Australia, where I worked and lived out of a little Pitjantjatjara community called Pipalyatjara. I worked with Nugget on this project. It changed my life. It's the reason I ended up here. It changed my life, because I was living and working with Aboriginal people in a very remote place who were being oppressed, and who still are in many ways, and who were going without. I was doing a project which was examining the impact of government programs on traditional socialisation. One of the programs I was looking at was CDEP. I won't go into the arguments about CDEP here, but it's given me a history. So it was very important to me. From Nugget, who was a mentor of mine, I really learnt what public service is—not only about public service and the way we should engage in it but the importance of the Public Service. I think we in this place need to comprehend how important the Public Service is to us and to the Australian community.
I then went back to teaching for a while after doing this research project out of the Australian National University. I went to work with the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, where my boss was Pat Dodson. He still is! Things don't change. He's up there—look! As I'm sure Pat will attest, we were guided by some great Aboriginal leaders, some great people of great wisdom from the bush. They weren't literate. English was their second or third language. They were old men, largely. There were not many women in these leadership positions at the time. I know they taught me a great deal. It was what they taught me, and the time I spent with Pat, under his guidance, that drove me to believe I should become a member of parliament.
So, having a very strong belief in social justice and a belief in the need to do something right, I contested the election. I went to that election knowing that I needed to rely upon the strength and wisdom of Aboriginal people. I stand here because of them. The only reason I became a member of parliament and have remained a member of parliament is the support I've been getting from the Aboriginal communities across the Northern Territory. I'm not talking about just marginal support here. I'm talking about successive elections where I've been getting 80 and 90 per cent of the vote. That puts me in a pretty unique position, given that 42 per cent of the population of Lingiari are Aboriginal people. I am their voice in this place. I owe them so much. I have learnt so, so much. I've learnt about respect and humility and I've learnt about patience. They have such great patience.
When I stood up in the Old Parliament House on 17 September 1987 to give my first speech, I said, among a number of things:
As a nation we have yet to recognise and accord Aboriginal people the justice that is their due.
It is still the case. I said:
This nation cannot pretend to wear the mantle of maturity until the indigenous rights of Aboriginal Australians are given formal recognition and the demands by Aboriginal and Islander people for compensation for lands stolen and for social and cultural disruption are addressed. In my view, this should involve appropriate amendments to the Constitution.
This was 1987. I said:
It is time that the politics of division in this country were put aside so that at last the injustice of the Aboriginal dispossession is recognised and dealt with in a way which is satisfactory to Aboriginal Australians.
That was 30 years ago, and here we still argue about the need for a voice to parliament, a makarrata, treaty-making, truth-telling. We have an obligation. We have a chance. We should be able to do it, Prime Minister. We should be able to do it. Come with us. Let's make it happen.
I want to conclude by reminding you that I'll be rolling my swag at the end of the term, not tomorrow. But I want to just finish by reading a quote from Xavier Herbert. It's not immediately relevant today, because land rights has been achieved, by and large, except for the deficiencies in native title, which are a discussion for another day. He said this, and I think it's a really strong statement that bears out the need for us to actually do things. Before I read it, I want to thank Pat, Malarndirri and Luke for your wonderful support. He said this:
Until we give back to the black man just a bit of the land that was his … without strings to snatch it back, without anything but complete generosity of spirit in concession for the evil we have done him—until we do that, we shall remain what we have always been so far, a people without integrity, not a nation but a community of thieves.
There are moments in this place that count, and that was one of them. There are moments we'll remember, and that was one of them. And there are people who make a difference, and Warren Snowdon is one of them, being in this place since 1987—or in the old chamber. I worked in Old Parliament House, and I first met Warren then and was struck by his passionate commitment to his electorate, to the people of the Northern Territory and particularly to First Nations people. He is passionate, determined, sometimes uncompromising, difficult at times but always focused on the endgame, always focused on the outcome and making a difference each and every day.
He is someone who wasn't successful in 1996. When the tide goes out, sometimes it takes good people with it—and it did. But I am always in awe of people who hang in there and choose to run again, for unfinished business—and indeed there was unfinished business for Warren Snowdon, serving as a parliamentary secretary in the former Labor government but then coming back and serving as a minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments, in veterans' affairs; in defence science and personnel and in Indigenous health. His absence will be a big loss to this place. Veterans and serving personnel—men and women who wear our uniform—have such high regard for Warren Snowdon, because they know he is on their side.
He'll continue to serve in the term. When Warren and I had a private chat a little while ago he was determined to see the people of the Northern Territory maintain two seats—not out of personal interest but because it is in their interest, being such a large geographical area, although it does have a lot of its population in the capital city, so that the people in the regions and people in remote Indigenous communities are not forgotten. These are communities that would struggle to get representation unless there were two seats in the Northern Territory. So, he fought very hard to make sure that was going to happen, even with the knowledge that he had come to his decision. I've asked him to continue to serve on the front bench. We'll have some changes of arrangements; the Prime Minister will have some. But I've asked Warren to continue to serve on the front bench, because he will work until the very last day, to the best of his capacity, as he always has.
Warren's played a mentoring role not to one generation of Labor MPs but, because of the nature of this place, to generations of Labor MPs, as well as connecting with people on the other side of the chamber, as someone of goodwill. His experience counts. His knowledge counts. I've been in a couple of ballots in my life, and I've never had as quick a conversation as the one I had with Warren. I rang him up and he answered, and I said, 'Warren, Albo here—' and straightaway I heard, 'Yep, I'm voting for you'—bang. That's what happened on the Monday, I think it was, after the last election. And that's Warren: what you see is what you get. He tells you what his view is and he puts it forward, regardless. He doesn't do a calculation of what's in his interests. He has a view, and he's prepared to put it and prepared to argue his case. That's why he is respected by all of us and loved by most of us, including myself. A few of us will gather tonight at the usual place, a gathering that Warren convenes as part of his role as elder statesperson, getting people together to engage in dialogue. I join with him, on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, in thanking Elizabeth, who's made an extraordinary sacrifice. The Prime Minister and I live pretty close to the runways at KSA. To represent such a large electorate, around which you have to travel such distances—travelling on those little planes too—is a major challenge. And Frank, Tom, Tess and Jack, we thank you as well, for sharing your dad with us.
Warren, we will have more to say at events to come, but, on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, thank you. Thank you for what you've done. Thank you for what you'll continue to do as the member for Lingiari and as a member of my front bench until the next election. And thank you for what you'll continue to contribute.
I well recall that, both since 1996, when Warren was elected as a member, and before then, he was a spokesperson for First Nations people. One of the things that has happened in this place since Warren has been here—and we're better for it, on both sides—is that we actually have representation from First Nations people. That hasn't happened by accident. That's happened because people like Warren, very early on, campaigned to make sure that the Australian Labor Party took the decisions that we have to get that representation. Pat Dodson wasn't doing numbers in the WA branch, I've got to tell you!
You have to make those conscious decisions that we need a parliament that reflects Australia, and that means getting First Nations people here. Warren has been absolutely unconditionally determined to advance the interests of First Nations people. It's fair to say, I think, that it would be difficult to think of anyone since Federation who, over such a period of time, has that as their record in this place. Certainly, no-one would have argued the case—through native title, through land rights, through, now, constitutional recognition—as Warren has. That is a great legacy.
When we recognise First Nations people in the Constitution and give them a voice to this place, as you have argued, Warren, you can feel good about making a difference and making a contribution to that change happening.
I thank you, Member for Lingiari, for your tremendous service to our country. I also thank you for the acknowledgment of the way our parliament has come together to ensure there are those two seats for the Northern Territory. I, along with my many colleagues here who feel similarly, thank you for your passion and advocacy. I'm pleased that that has met with your agreement and that you could stand at this dispatch box and say that here today. As the Leader of the Opposition says, it was one of those important moments here in our parliament.
I've known Warren—Snowy—for some time as well. He's the sort of chap who, when you came here as a new member, would give you a nod in the corridor or down at the gym, or give you a friendly smile or say something usually pretty funny, often at your own expense. But that's the sort of bloke he is. Warren, like all Territorians, is a Territorian first. And he's a proud Territorian. Some might say he was made for the front page of the NT News. I don't know. I'm sure he got his fair share of them, as some of us have.
As the Leader of the Opposition has said, there are many things that I know he can feel a deep and great sense of accomplishment about. As Prime Minister, I thank you, Warren, on behalf of the Australian people for your service to Indigenous Australians, and not just in this place. It is a service that I have no doubt will continue long after you leave this place at the next election.
But I also want to join with the Leader of the Opposition, together with the Minister for Veterans' Affairs and veterans all around this country, in thanking you for your passion and dedication to our veterans. You've led the way in that area. You've had the great honour, which I know you would feel deeply, of being able to serve them in all the ways that you have. It is one of those portfolios of government that doesn't know partisan colour. And in that portfolio you were a great choice for your party because of your deep commitment and passion to our veterans. I know that will also continue.
In this place, it's not often, I think, that members get to leave here with a great sense of accomplishment that is at the same time not accompanied by bitterness, and I think that is also a mark of you, Warren. You've been here a long time, you've seen a lot of stuff—you've done some of it, I suspect! But you leave it there and you move on and you look forward to your next contribution that you can make, and I think that's a great credit to you and the sort of bloke you are. And that's why I think you're pretty well liked around this place. Your presence will be missed by all of us who've got to know you, even in a small way, and by those of us who know you extremely well, particularly your own colleagues.
Can I also join in acknowledging Elizabeth, Frankie, Tom, Tess and Jack. My daughter was born a couple of months before I came to this place, so I have some knowledge, particularly in those early years, of what you would have gone through with Elizabeth—you come home and the kids are there and you go, 'I'm doing something for the next few hours, if not few days.' I applaud your commendation and your gratitude to Elizabeth. That's probably why, mate, you are still together. You're now going to be able to, in a not-too-distant time from now, share precious time with her and the rest of your family in your post-political career. They share in your service, they share mostly in your sacrifice and they are joint inheritors of your legacy as well. Your children will be able to be very proud of their father.
I'm glad you kept notes, because I reckon it would make a cracking read! 'Snowy' is an obvious title, I reckon. I'll finish on this—and this is probably one of the best acknowledgments that a Liberal can give to a member of the Labor Party: you're a good Labor man. You're a very good Labor man. Thank you for your service.
on indulgence—I want to absolutely pay tribute to the member for Lingiari. As the veterans' affairs minister, I'm just reminded, the member for Lingiari described himself as a relic. Well, we in the National Party think you're more of a treasure than a relic. We in the National Party will pass the hat around and buy you a new swag. You're going to need it! The Northern Territory News, one of my favourite papers, should have on the front page tomorrow not a crocodile but 'Man with the mo to go'. You've been a great contributor. I used to write a few headlines once upon a time. I like to think I still can. If the editor is watching, consider it!
When I went to the Northern Territory in August, I bumped into Elizabeth and Warren.
I often go there. I love the Top End. I bumped into them in the mall. Who would have thought! I'm just walking along and I bump into Warren Snowdon. We had coffee the next day with Luke, and it was great. If you want to know what's going on in the Top End, you catch up with Warren. You have a convivial cup of coffee. We had one and then we had another and then we had another. And we did agree at the time that the Northern Territory—sorry, Prime Minister!—should have two seats, and I know the Prime Minister agrees. We believe that regional voices are important. The Prime Minister knows that. The Leader of the Opposition knows that. When you represent an area of 1.3 million square kilometres, those people deserve a voice as well as anybody in this parliament. It's so difficult to get to every far-flung corner of Lingiari, but you, my friend, have done it superbly. I wish you and Elizabeth and your four kids and the family all the very best. You deserve it. I know you are going to be here for however long it takes for this term of parliament to continue. We wish you all the very best. The National Party wishes you all the very best. The government wishes you all the very best. Mate, you've got a very, very bright future. Isn't it great you can hear people eulogising about you and you're still very much alive!
I know there are many other members who want to say something today, but they'll have that opportunity throughout the sittings next year. I personally just want to say I agree with all of the words in the speeches. I won't repeat them. We've known each other a long time too, and I knew throughout this week, as we were speaking, it was a big decision and it was a difficult speech in many ways. I did make a note before question time not to throw you out today. I thought that was quite important.