Wednesday, 16 February 2022
FLINT (—) (): on indulgence—I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the chamber for their indulgence. Good morning, Prime Minister. I wrote two versions of this speech. Thank you, Member for Barker, here looking after me as always. Thank you. I wouldn't be here without you. I wrote two versions of this speech, and some advice was that the first was a little bit too angry. I'm happy to take suggestions, as to whether you'd like the angry version or not, but maybe you can buy the book eventually instead.
We are a different nation and a different world compared to when I gave my first speech to this place on 31 August 2016. I am vastly different too. I rose to give my first speech as a person—a person who was a proud Australian, South Australian and Liberal, and the fourth generation of my family to serve our local community in Boothby. Today, I give my valedictory speech not as a person but as a woman, having been forced time and time again over the past seven years in this place to confront and defend the fact that I am female. This has been exceptionally challenging for me. Throughout my long and interesting career, developing policy in industry associations, as a staff member in politics, as a senior Liberal Party volunteer and as a deliberately provocative newspaper columnist at the Agestill not sure how they published me—and then the Advertiser for over three years, I was never attacked as a woman. I was never reduced to a woman.
As a newspaper columnist, the only vaguely sexist comment was a letter to the editor asking if I was writing for the Advertiser or Dolly magazine. That might be something that my fellow women in the chamber understand, because we grew up with Dolly magazine, and perhaps you have to be of a certain vintage to get the reference. Before anyone tries to suggest that perhaps the internet and social media weren't invented when I was writing columns, they were. I'm old, but I'm not quite that old. At the Age and the Advertiser, I never had to put up with the repetitive sickening, sexist, misogynistic abuse and dangerous behaviour that started in the lead-up to the 2019 election and hasn't stopped since.
At my lowest point last year, after a series of events in and around this place that you could not dream up if you tried—my 'Whipsie Chicks' Jessica Anne Howard and Larnie, understand exactly what I mean—it occurred to me that all of these things were happening to me during my time, in this place, in politics, because it's up to me, as a woman, to try to fix them for all women. So today I want to suggest a few ways we can fix things for women in in public life because, as some other Chicks sang, after they'd been cancelled, 'I'm not ready to make nice, I'm not ready to back down.'
My first suggestion is: the Left of politics needs to act, and that action needs to start in this place with the Leader of the Opposition. Last March, in response to an emotional speech I gave in this place, the Leader of the Opposition told the press gallery and the Australian people that he would act when sexist and misogynist dangerous behaviour was drawn to his attention. Well, he hasn't, despite further speeches I've given in this place, the letters I have written to him, and the numerous newspaper reports, especially since last December when online attacks on me reached a disgusting new low of sexism and misogyny.
It's tempting to describe the Leader of the Opposition with a single word, a four-letter word. It begins with L and ends with R. But that would be unparliamentary, so I won't. Instead, I call on him again to finally show some leadership on the issue of women's safety in public life, because it's not just me who is copping this behaviour. It's not just me who is being abused by men and some women on the Left; it's senior ABC journalists like Leigh Sales, Jane Norman and Lisa Millar, and businesswomen like Sal Grover.
I want to be very clear about the sort of behaviour that I'm talking about. Men on the Left, some of whom are public figures of influence, have done the following: stalked me; suggested I should be strangled; criticised the clothes I wear and the way I look; repeatedly called me a whiny little bitch; repeatedly called me weak, a slut, a dick—and I apologise for the language—and much, much worse over email, online, on YouTube, on Facebook, and on Twitter. They've commented that I should be raped, grudge-fucked, that I am doing sexual favours for all my male colleagues, that I should be killed, that I should kill myself, and many, many more things that I will not repeat here. These men have also consistently reminded me that I deserve everything that has happened to me.
To the Left, to GetUp, to Labor, to the unions and to the left-leaning media—you know exactly who you are— you need to finally show some leadership and put a stop to this sort of behaviour by not pretending that you will stop this sort of behaviour, because you're on the side of women, allegedly, but by actually stopping the behaviour. They have the power to do so. They have the power to lead. They have the power to stop implying that I'm the wrong kind of woman or that Senator Holly Hughes is the wrong kind of woman and that we deserve everything we get because we're Liberals and we stand up for women. If they don't, well, they're not really leaders, then, are they? I say that particularly to the Leader of the Opposition.
The second challenge that will allow women in public life to get on with their jobs is for social media companies or big tech to start to behave like corporate citizens. I did put some very colourful language in here to describe their approach, but I'm trying to maintain some standards of decency, even if they're not. We know that big tech could stop all forms of hateful abuse tomorrow if they wanted to, but we also know that they won't. Just look at their recent evidence to the Select Committee on Social Media and Online Safety. Again, I commend the member for Robertson for her incredible leadership of this committee. My submission to the select committee documents the abuse they allow on their platforms. And I will have a lot more to say about this later today when I speak on the trolling bill.
People like to say that social media is like a sewer. Experiencing the online attacks over multiple platforms, as I have since last December, I think it's more like a festering toxic sewer. But this is where I think the analogy needs to be extended. It's not so much about the sewage itself; it's about the companies that are spreading it. Big tech is the modern-day equivalent of the unregulated, greedy, big business polluters of the industrial revolution. Big tech is enabling toxic sewage to spill into the homes and the lives of innocent, hard-working Australians every single day
It took the 19th century legislators decades to clean up the waterways, the air, the streets, and public health in Britain. But they did, and lives were saved, improved and enhanced. It's the responsibility of every single person in this place to support legislation that will clean up the online sewer right now and force big tech to finally behave the same way that we demand of every corporate citizen and every business in Australia, as responsible corporate citizens. I do believe this will happen, thanks to our government and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. We are already leading the world with our online safety laws. I commend this place and all of my colleagues, Minister Paul Fletcher and the Prime Minister, for their leadership in this space.
Having seen and having personally experienced sexist and misogynistic attitudes online from other human beings, my third observation and suggestion is probably the most important. Women need all-encompassing protection from sexism and misogyny through, I think, the Sex Discrimination Act. We need to stop the abuse at the start. Women like journalists Leigh Sales, Lisa Millar, Jane Norman, Erin Molan, Natalie Barr and Van Badham, AFL player Tayla Harris and businesswoman Sall Grover should be able to do their jobs without highly sexualised abuse.
I know that women on the other side of this place, like the member for Kingston and the former member for Adelaide, Kate Ellis, copped this too. Ms Ellis devotes an entire chapter of her book, Sex, Lies and Question Time, to the online abuse of women in parliament and public roles. Ms Ellis's excellent book does a lot more than that as well. She explains how difficult it is to be a woman in this place. If you want to make it easier for your female colleagues, please read the book. It's outstanding.
This is a hard place to be a woman, whether you're a staff member, MP or senator. I want to thank most sincerely Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and her team for their incredible work in a short period of time last year on Set the standard, the Jenkins report, which I believe will finally lead to the change that we need in this place. More broadly in society, however, women will continue to be attacked, abused, belittled, gossiped about and lied about until we have blanket protection that says it's an offence to offend, insult, humiliate and intimidate women. We know this has worked to protect other groups in our society. It's worked well. Now we need to protect women. We are half of the population. I hope everyone here today and especially those in the next parliament can give this some consideration.
My final major observation about this place is also about modern society in general. I've thought very carefully about the things that have happened to me and the things I've seen happen to others in and around this place. All of it comes back to one simple problem: a complete lack of respect for other people. This is the obvious conclusion of the less great project, the disruption of Western civilisation. They've sought to replace our institutions, our traditions and our conventions with causes that have no moral compass and no guide as how to respect your fellow human beings. The outcome is disrespect, abuse and hatred. When you replace religion and the models and ethics it has taught us with the religion of climate change, for example, when the battle of ideas is replaced with cancel culture and the lynch mob, when you tell women that we have fewer rights than men who choose to change their sex to be women, when women are abused for asserting our right to be women, when the Left celebrate being rude and disrespectful, claiming freedom of expression, when this becomes the standard, contempt creeps in, hate flourishes and society breaks down.
That's probably enough heavy duty reflection for a Wednesday morning of a double sitting week, you'll be pleased to hear! What I now want to do is briefly celebrate what my government, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, has done to support and protect women during our time in office, which is more than any other Prime Minister and any other government in the history of this nation. We have record funding for domestic violence strategies, child care, catch-up superannuation contributions for women and new programs for women's home ownership.
We're the first government to take endometriosis seriously. I cannot thank enough the former member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, the member for Forrest and of course the minister for health, Greg Hunt, for their incredible help and support on this issue. As such, we've launched the first ever national action plan on endometriosis. I want to acknowledge and thank Senator Anne Ruston as well. I say to all the endo warriors out there: ladies, I know there's much more to do and we will do it together.
The same goes for stillbirth. There's now the first ever national action plan on that. Again, I recognise our incredible minister for health, Greg Hunt, and amazing people like Claire Ford, who told me her story, which motivated me to fight for the change we have already achieved and we will continue to achieve.
We are the government who introduced the world-leading eSafety Commissioner online anti-trolling bill, which is before us today, and amended the electoral act to make politics safer for all of us in this place and the other. We're the government who commissioned and implemented the Respect@Work report. We also commissioned and are implementing the Foster report and the Jenkins report. Our record is something to be very, very proud of.
In terms of my local community, there's a lot I've achieved as well, and I probably could stand here for the rest of the day talking about my incredible community and volunteers and what we've done together. But, the first and probably one thing that I'm most proud of was fixing Oaklands Crossing, a 40-year-old problem for my community. It was thanks to us, a Liberal government, and particularly the minister for urban infrastructure, Paul Fletcher—Paul, thank you so much—that we fixed this and also the Goodwood, Springbank and Daws Road intersection. This is saving people hours every day between both intersections, and it's making life much safer.
Right next to the Goodwood, Springbank and Daws Road intersection is the repat hospital. This historic veterans' hospital, chapel and rehabilitation site is the site that the previous state Labor government cruelly shut down. Thanks to my lobbying, thanks to the Morrison and Marshall Liberal governments, we've reopened it and the site is once again thriving. I should apologise to the minister for health for relentlessly pursuing federal funding for this site. As you can tell, I've been a bit of a serial pest for poor Greg, but he's been very patient, and thanks to the Morrison and Marshall Liberal governments we have nation-leading dementia care at the repat, a brand new brain and spinal rehabilitation unit and, thanks to the immediate past minister for veterans, the member for Gippsland, and perhaps some more very persistent lobbying from me with the support of my incredible veterans' community in Boothby, we have one of six of the nation's veterans' wellbeing units at the repat.
Just a couple of kilometres away we also have, thanks to the Morrison Liberal government, the soon-to-be completed brand new war memorial in the upgraded Women's Memorial Playing Fields for the 21 brave nurses and their colleagues who gave their lives for our nation on Radji Beach 80 years ago today in World War II. Nearby are my Vietnam vets, and I could not be prouder that I managed to help them with their new permanent home.
There are several very different projects I was particularly passionate about that will serve my community for generations. The first—and, Prime Minister, thank you for being there to launch it—the nation-leading recycling plant that I worked very closely on with cities of Holdfast Bay, Marion and Onkaparinga. That is located on one of the most visionary waste sites I've ever seen. It is absolutely best practice, and this will improve our environment and support my community in Boothby by for generations to come.
In the arts, thanks to some more relentless lobbying by me, we will see South Australia become the gallery destination of the nation with Australia's leading Aboriginal arts and cultures gallery on North Terrace; a brand new gallery for Hans and Nora Heysen in Hahndorf, and I thank Lyn and John Nitschke for their relentless lobbying of me to get support for this project; and a brand new visitors' centre at historic Carrick Hill in my electorate, and I acknowledge South's most generous philanthropists, Ian and Pamie Wall, for their generous support of this project as well and Richard Heathcote for all his work.
On a very local level, I've worked so closely with my incredible local volunteers at the Sturt CFS group, our four Surf Life Saving Clubs, our local RSL groups, Lions and Rotary, environmental groups, our First Nations people on sites and volunteers, sports clubs, community groups, mayors and councillors and council staff, and we have delivered so many upgrades for our local community. Revisiting all of these varied projects, and I haven't even mentioned the Flinders Link train line extension or the Fullarton and Cross Roads upgrade, I'm starting to realise why I feel a little bit tired.
I also realised last week that during my time in parliament I have moved further and further to the right in the chamber. I first sat next to my twin, the member for Robertson, and then right behind the Prime Minister. I moved to the right with my wonderful, wonderful whips, Bertie Bert and Rowan, and now find myself here in National heartland. I've got to say: being a country girl at heart, this is a very comfortable place for me to be. I want to thank the current Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce, and the immediate past Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, for their wonderful support over the years. However, before anyone gets any ideas about a potential defection or future path for me, I'm standing here today in double blue for a reason: I'm a passionate Sturt supporter. I am talking about not the seat of Sturt—although I'm very happy to see it in Liberal hands, James!—but the Sturt footy club. I look forward to getting to a lot more games when I achieve my freedom. But, more so, I am a Liberal through and through—and I am also a staunch coalitionist, so I am happy to be sitting here with my National Party colleagues. To all my dear friends in the Nats: we can't do it without you, and vice versa. Long may we remain the most successful coalition and parties of government in Australia and the world. Just don't try and re-establish yourselves in South Australia any time soon, because the member for Barker, the member for Grey and I will stop you at the border!
When people ask me why I'm a Liberal, the simplest and easiest answer is: I was born Liberal. I will always continue to do all I can for the party in my voluntary roles, as I've always done—first as chairman of the rural and regional council, and I thank the member for Barker for strongly encouraging me into that position, and now as president of the women's council, where I'm instilling processes, procedures and traditions that I hope will last for generations. No doubt my dear friend Nick Cater will soon start pitching to me to write a fourth edition of Gender and politics, about women in the Liberal Party, after the federal election. And I acknowledge the incredible class of 2019, where we achieved fifty-fifty representation of men and women.
Finally—we're almost there!—I need to say some specific thank yous. Thank you, of course, to the people of Boothby for giving me this incredible privilege of serving you. I have never worked harder in my life and we have achieved so much, as I've outlined. Thank you. The kindness and generosity, and the cards, flowers, emails and gifts that flooded my office when I announced I was retiring, were really humbling. To my dear friends and supporters, including the Hon. Dr Brendan Nelson, Peta Credlin, Peter, Jenny and Anna Hurley, Matthew, Charmaine and Sue Binns, Tony Franzon, Vicki Franzon and John Lewis, Greg and Marguerite Evans, Nick Cater, Dr Susan Evans, Dr Louise Hull, Dr Jane Woolcock, Dr Graham Tronc, David 'Penbo' Penberthy—if he hadn't called me and said: 'Do you want to tell your story, Nic? I know you've had a hard time', I probably never would have—and Janet Albrechtsen, who stand up for women time and time again: thank you.
I turn to my Liberal Party volunteers. To my longest-serving president, Archbishop John Hepworth, who the PM dubbed 'the Bishop of Boothby', which was very appropriate, and who sadly passed away a few months ago and who was one of my best supporters: we miss you, John, and thank you. To Jenny and Vern Hembrow, Geoff and Lis Bartlett, Garry and Sue Dolman, Rhys and Helen Roberts, Brenton and Kay Griffiths, Fran and Dennis Southern, and Helen and all the Ronsons: thank you. And thank you to my staff: Jane; Janice; Georgia; Camilla; Zane—who you all know through his wonderful work as the whip's assistant; Eleanor, my constituent whisperer; Amie; Sue; most especially, Alexander Hyde, without whom I could have achieved none of this; and, more recently, Fiona Lee, who has been a godsend and to whom I will be eternally grateful for supporting me and the Boothby EO through our final months.
South Australia also, sadly, lost Professor Dean Jaensch a few weeks ago. We're all thinking of him and his wife, Helen—two incredibly kind and generous people. Without Dean, without Professor Haydon Manning and Andrew Parkin from Flinders University, and without an excellent education from my tiny little Kingston Community School primary school under principal Grant Murray, and from Pembroke School under Malcolm Lamb, I doubt I would have ended up here. These wonderful teachers taught me how to think, not what to think. I worry for our students today, especially in our universities, but I acknowledge the minister, the member for Wannon, and the very important work he began and we will continue.
To all our incredible Parliament House staff—the attendants, clerks, security guards, Comcar drivers, catering staff and everyone: thank you. You're all such amazing and kind people, and I will really, really miss you and our chats. Thank you to our wonderful whips team—Bert, Rowan, Drummy, Kenny—to our staff—Leonie, Zane and my amazing 'whipsie chicks', Jess and Larnie—and to those whips opposite—the member for Fowler, the member for Werriwa and the member for Lalor—with whom we make this place run seamlessly. You do not understand what the whips do until you have to do the job; believe me, we are very important people! The Speaker probably appreciates that more than anyone.
I would not have been here in this place in the first place were it not for the member for Barker. I've cried a lot less during this speech because during my maiden speech he paid me out and said, 'Gee, that was a lot of crying, Nic,' so I'm trying hard not to cry quite so much today. Tony, thank you for your support, especially during my campaigns. And to everyone from Barker FEC; Mackillop SEC; Mount Gambier, Millicent and Kingston SE; branches, and also to the member for Waite—thank you; I couldn't have done this without you. To Senator Alex Antic, who was so kind, supportive and protective during the 2019 campaign, thank you. And congratulations to you and Edwina on the arrival of Oscar. There are a couple of other ladies I know in this place who are also precisely the sorts of women who are incredibly tough and staunch defenders of women, my good friends Senators Claire Chandler and Amanda Stoker. I'm so proud of you both.
Okay. We're almost there. Sorry, Tony; the crying's building up now. To my very best friend, Jano—who is now partnered with Jason and has just had baby Amelia—thank you for still being here after seven long years. To my newer friends Amber, Gemma, Caro, Parnell, Sunita—wow; how lucky am I to have ladies like you in my life! You've managed to get me through the past 12 months. Thank you.
Thank you to my parents, Evan and Glenys, for all their support. To dad and his brother Tim, who I know are incredibly relieved that they will never have to put another corflute up on Shepherds Hill Road—they're still complaining about it, and that was in the 2016 campaign—thanks, Dad and Tim, for your support. And to my family, Johnny, Cat, Brodie, Elijah, Dylan, Alexis, Belinda, Josh, Hugo, Gwenyth and especially Simon, Rachel, Fraser, Alana and Edward, I'm so glad to finally have someone in Adelaide with me, and I can't wait to spend more time with you. To the House, thank you for your indulgence; to all of my amazing colleagues, my class of 2016, thank you; Prime Minister, thank you for your leadership. I look forward to watching on the television, but seeing us return to this side of the parliament after the next election. Thank you.
Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this country, the Ngunawal and Ngambri people, and the traditional owners where I live, in Mparntwe country, the Central Arrernte people. It's an honour and a great privilege to be here, and it always has been.
Just to contextualise what I'm about to say: the Northern Territory first got representation in this parliament 100 years ago in the election of 1922, when Harold Nelson—HG—was elected as a Labor candidate into this parliament. I was first elected in 1987—that's 35 years ago—and have been in the parliament for 32 years: 12 as the member for the Northern Territory and 20 as the member for Lingiari. My good friend in my neighbouring seat is Comrade Gosling, the member for Solomon. Over that period, I have been really, really fortunate—in the context of Labor members of parliament, extremely fortunate. I've had 15 years in government, six years as a parliamentary secretary in the Hawke and Keating years, and six years as a minister in Rudd and Gillard years.
But the truth of it is that I wouldn't be here if it weren't for so many others. Yes, I was fortunate enough to be given those opportunities, but it's the good people of the Northern Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories that I owe the most. They are the reason I'm here, and I want to thank them for their ongoing support and friendship. My No. 1 priority since coming to this parliament has been to advocate for and represent them in this place. Just as a reminder, Lingiari is 1.34 million square kilometres, and the Indian Ocean Territories, way off there in the Indian Ocean, are often forgotten by so many, but they have had the travails and trauma of the Tampa, children overboard and deaths at sea. My good friends in the Cocos Islands—just such a wonderful community.
So it's a very dispersed electorate, from the Red Centre where I live, to the north and the Indian Ocean Territories. It has a wonderfully diverse population, although 42 per cent are Aboriginal people, for whom I am most thankful. The overwhelming support of Aboriginal people has meant I have been here election after election—11 successful elections and one which I lost. As an indication, at the last federal election, there were 194 mobile polling booths in the Northern Territory, and across those booths I received 80 per cent of the vote. That's an indication and the reason why I'm here.
My motivation: well, I should just say I'm here because I've been so fortunate to be elected. But I actually grew up just down the road in Narrabundah. I never visited this joint when I was a kid. I never had ambitions to be a member of parliament. My first visit to Old Parliament House was when I was working in the Department of Trade and I was carrying ministerials over to John McEwen's office. That's a while ago! And I'm not the only Snowdon ever to seek election. This will be for my mates over there in the rural rump—I beg your pardon, my National Party comrades! My grandfather, Percy Claude Snowdon, stood as an independent Country Party member for the seat of Murray Valley in the 1945 Victorian state election. Thankfully, his political journey didn't pass on to me!
My motivation for seeking election in the first place was driven by my involvement in my church, community and sporting organisations, the mighty trade union movement and my job as a teacher. But perhaps the most important influence was that of Dr HC Coombs and Dr Maria Brandell, whom I worked with on a project in the Pitjantjatjara homelands in the late seventies and early eighties. Dr Coombs was a magnificent and wonderful Australian who became a mentor of mine. After I left that university job, I went back to teaching. And then I was fortunate enough to go and work at the Central Land Council in Alice Springs where my boss was Patrick Dodson—now Senator Patrick Dodson. Our bosses were the traditional owners of Central Australia, and they taught me such a great deal and motivated me to want to become a member of this parliament.
But I have to say that my parliamentary journey over this 35 years would not have been possible without the love, support and sacrifice of my wife, Elizabeth, and our children Frankie, Tom, Tess and Jack. Elizabeth, my partner for 40 years now, took upon herself the primary responsibility of raising and nurturing our wonderful children and maintaining our household. I simply don't have words that do you justice, Elizabeth, or that are adequate to express my love and gratitude.
Our first child, Frankie, was born a fortnight before the first election. I was on the road in Tennant Creek electioneering. I rang the midwife that night and said, 'What's it look like, is Elizabeth okay?' The midwife said, 'Everything's fine, don't worry, don't hurry back.' I woke up at about 3 o'clock in the morning and thought, 'No, that doesn't sound right.' So I woke up the person who was driving me, my good friend, and I said, 'Do you mind if we go back to Alice Springs, I think there might be something happening.' So we arrived back in Alice Springs and turned up at the house, in Chewings Street, and no-one was there. And I said, 'God, bugger me dead, what's happened?' So we go to the hospital, go to the maternity ward, and there's Frankie, with her mum, being wheeled out of the birthing suite. So I missed you—I'm sorry! I don't think you've suffered as a result—at least, I hope not! Over the next years Tom, Tess and Jack came along. Elizabeth took 12 years out of the paid workforce, from her profession as a teacher, until young Jack went to school. We're so proud of the four of them. They are wonderful human beings. I'm sorry that I wasn't around for you. Prior to the COVID period, I was only home around eight nights a month over that 30-odd years journey. So I missed all those important days—birthdays, school events and all of those things.
I also want to thank, and acknowledge the sacrifice, loyalty and friendship of, all those who have supported me over the period—the members of the Northern Territory Labor Party, my union comrades, the volunteers, all of those who make it possible for us to be here. I know that all of you all understand that, while you might be the poster boy or girl, in fact you're only there because of those who are behind you, and I'm ever so grateful.
I also want to thank those electorate and ministerial staff that I had the great fortune to work with over many years. They effectively became my second family. Their dedication, friendship, professionalism, loyalty and resilience have been essential for me to be able to carry out my job. My closest comrades were always in my electoral office. There are two who I'll mention: Carol Bourke and Jack Crosby were two wonderful, wonderful human beings, who passed away whilst in the job. They were the truest of comrades, friends, advisors and, of course, fearless critics until the end.
While I'm giving the thankyous, I'd like to obviously thank all of the parliamentary staff: the cleaners, the gym staff, Hansard, security, the attendants, the clerks, the sergeant's office, the Speaker, the nurses, the gardeners, the caterers, the volunteers, the terrific library staff, who are so vital to what we do; the staff of Aussies, who keep the caffeine up; and, of course, the Transport Office and the drivers, who look after us around Australia; and the airline staff, with who I've become so friendly. I think I spent close to two years flying over that period, and I've come to know those flight attendants really very, very well.
Let's now talk about the journey. It was a different world in 1987. There were no mobile phones and no internet. My first office had a computer and a fax machine. I travelled for days around the electorate without any form of communication back to home base. I recall my first speech down there in the Old Parliament House, with my mum and dad in the Speaker's gallery and Elizabeth with Frankie upstairs with a great friend. My first office was in Old Parliament House, a poky little joint on the Senate side. It was around nine square metres. You couldn't swing a cat, and you certainly couldn't have more than one visitor. My neighbour at the time, my first neighbour, was John Hewson, who was also elected at that election. So life in Old Parliament House was so, so far different from what you lucky buggers have got here! Until we arrived here in 1988, there was very scant security. The parliamentary bar was a constant buzz and a meeting place of literally all sorts.
I'd had experience of being in that place a couple of years prior with Patrick, now Senator Dodson. We were involved with the Northern Territory Land Council and campaigning against changes which the then Hawke government wanted to make over land rights, particularly national land rights. We were keen to prevent them falling into the trap which had been set by Brian Burke, the Premier of Western Australia, who opposed national land rights. We were unwilling and we campaigned to make sure that no legislation passed that undermine the existing rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory in the Northern Territory land rights act, and we were successful.
Over the years, of course, you meet some really wonderful people. Very early on, Gerry Hand became a very close friend, along with Nick Bolkus and, after the 1990 election, Simon Crean and Daryl Melham. Over the last 20 years or thereabouts, I've shared accommodation with now lifelong friends—Nick Bolkus for a while and Simon Crean. When Nick retired from this place, we were looking for someone to stay, so we auditioned a few. We interviewed Brendan. He was the successful candidate, poor bugger!
An honourable member: Tell us about the initiation!
That's right! But that house in Narrabundah has some wonderful memories, and if only the walls could talk. The dinners, the plotting, the planning, the conniving, the arguments—they all took place there. Some of that had more than a passing impact on events in this place. At some point, if those walls could talk, you'd hear some stories. Thankfully, you won't hear them from me!
The ALP caucus is an interesting beast. Over the years, there have been some very unique characters, all with a lot to offer: lively policy debates, leadership ballots, vacancy ballots. I lost one once! It didn't make me happy!
An opposition member: That's democracy.
Yes, that's democracy, as my comrade says. I have to say, over the years, it's become a much tamer affair. You need to lift your game! But I do enjoy the friendship of my caucus colleagues, particularly our regular Thursday night dinners, which are an opportunity to decompress, have a yarn or just be plain silly. And there's a lot of that happening.
But the outstanding and positive change that has come to our caucus is its feminisation. In 1988, only nine per cent or thereabouts of our members on the House of Representatives floor were women. It's now 48 per cent, and after the next election it will be over 50 per cent. That's all because of the hard work done by women in our caucus. Thank you. And there is the wonderful legacy of Julia Gillard, as our nation's first female Prime Minister. Now I know for certain that the pathway to leadership is open to all women in our caucus. A few blokes have got to loosen their grip a bit, but that will happen—don't worry! The most recent reckoning of the abuse of women in the parliamentary workforce and in the workplace, and the acceptance of the need for action and cultural change, is welcome and long overdue.
There are a lot of things I could talk about about being a minister, but there simply isn't time, and I wouldn't do justice to the very many people I had the great good fortune to work with in the various portfolios. I have great memories of those times, and it was a great honour and a great privilege, but I do want to mention a couple of things about the caucus that I wasn't happy about. There were decisions taken by the caucus that I opposed. I kept caucus solidarity, but, of all the decisions, the one that caused me most concern was the decision by the Howard government to intervene in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, which I strongly opposed. I also strongly opposed the abolition of ATSIC and the decision to ban live cattle exports from the Northern Territory. These decisions were unnecessary and caused hurt and harm. In the case of the intervention in the Northern Territory, the repercussions are still being felt. The trauma is still there.
In relation to the ministerial responsibilities, what I learnt, and what reaffirmed my belief in public service, was the importance of the people in the public service who work for ministers. It reaffirmed in me the belief in a strong, independent public service in the Coombs tradition. An independent public service is central to our democracy and system of government, and I want to thank those many fine public servants with whom I had the good fortune to work, as well as those thousands of people who work in public service offices around this country, working for us. I think it's well past the time for another review of the type of the Coombs royal commission of the 1970s.
I was going to talk about the parliament, but I'm aware that time is passing. I just want to make the observation that it is such a great privilege to be in this parliament debating, representing the interests of our constituents. There could be no finer job to be done. Work as a parliamentarian is the best work. We might throw barbs across the chamber, but the reality is we're all here for a good purpose. We might disagree but—if we do show some respect for one another, as we should—despite the political rhetoric and the barbs that are thrown, we are here for a good purpose, and the people of Australia rely upon us to do that job.
I want to comment on the parliamentary committee process, and I see the Chair of the Indigenous Affairs Committee, Julian Leeser, is here and the Chair of the Northern Australia Joint Committee, Warren Entsch, is here. They are two committees that I've been involved with for a long time, as well as the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee, which I've enjoyed. I have to say that these committees work really, really effectively because of the bipartisan way in which we address the issues and the respect that we show to one another and to those who appear before us. So I want to say to people here—and it's just so sad—that the recommendations which come out of those committees are so often shelved when, in fact, they should be the guiding light for what happens.
At the very outset of this wonderful journey that I've been involved in, I made clear in my first speech that my priority and desire to represent and advocate for the interests of First Australians was my most significant responsibility. So I've sought to have this place understand the need to address the injustices experienced by Aboriginal people, and to have people's rights as First Australians properly recognised and addressed and their needs met. But if I look at the past 32 years in this place, the outcomes, sadly, have often been very frustrating and sadly disappointing. And First Australians' needs have not been met. So many remain marginalised and in poverty, living in poor and overcrowded housing with scandalous levels of preventable, chronic disease. In my view, this is largely driven by the institutionalised racism that has been so much part of government since Federation and by the ongoing refusal to accept the need for truth-telling and acknowledgement of past and continuing injustice.
Over the time I've been in this place, there have been periods of great hope—and then times of great disappointment. I've mentioned the Hawke government as being a bit of a disappointment on the issue of national land rights, but they did so many very other good things. At the time of the Barunga Statement and the call for a treaty in June 1988, Prime Minister Hawke said in a document that he signed:
… we would expect and hope and work for the conclusion of such a treaty before the end of the life of this Parliament.
Sadly, that was not to be. It was not to be, because we couldn't get the support of the then opposition parties.
A tangible indication of positive change was the establishment of ATSIC. ATSIC gave First Australians a voice and decision-making responsibilities at a regional and national level. Sadly, it had its demise under the Howard government. A very significant victory, and a very important victory, for the Jawoyn people of the country adjacent to Kakadu National Park came when Prime Minister Hawke used his personal authority in cabinet to prevent mining at Coronation Hill—that is, Guratba, the home of Bulla. That was in spite of trenchant opposition from sections of cabinet and caucus. I want to quote from an article by Sid Maher in 2015 in which he quotes Bob Hawke at the time:
Mr Hawke said that when the issue came before cabinet and there was support for the mining proposal, 'I was annoyed beyond measure by the attitude of many of my colleagues, of their cynical dismissal of the beliefs of the Jawoyn people.'
He challenged cabinet that those who opposed the Jawoyn position essentially were saying that the traditional owners were talking 'bullshit'. 'I think I made probably one of the strongest and bitterest attacks I ever made on my colleagues in the cabinet,' Mr Hawke said.
He said there was no doubt this contributed to his loss of the prime ministership to Paul Keating later in 1991.
Mr Hawke said he attacked the 'monumental hypocrisy' of cabinet rejecting the Jawoyn's beliefs about their god while the same people who denigrated that belief 'can easily accommodate and embrace the bundle of mysteries which make up their white Christian beliefs'.
He said this 'supercilious supremacist discrimination' was abhorrent to everything he held to be important Labor beliefs.
That was a historically important moment.
Then we had reconciliation. Patrick Dodson was appointed the chair of the reconciliation council. Paul Keating pursued reconciliation and gave that momentous speech in Redfern Park in December 1992. For the first time, the Prime Minister spoke about dispossession, violence, prejudice and injustice suffered by First Australians. He then was responsible for initiating the passage of the Native Title Act, following the High Court decision in Mabo, and, in 1994, the Keating government adopted racial hatred legislation, including section 18C.
In 1995, the Keating government commissioned the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, with Commissioner Sir Roland Wilson and Pat's brother Mick. The Bringing them home report was tabled in 1997, but, sadly, Prime Minister Howard obdurately and obstinately refused to apologise to the stolen generations. So, sadly, the election of the Howard government brought a crash into despair. ATSIC was pre-emptively scrapped. Self-determination and self-management as drivers for public policy were also scrapped.
The most debilitating decision for people in my electorate was the decision by the Howard government for the intervention. There were attacks on native title. In 1996 after the Wik High Court case, the then Deputy Prime Minister attacked the High Court judges as being activists. That resulted in what then became the Howard 10-point plan, which depleted the rights of Aboriginal people as native title holders, broadened the power of federal and state governments to extinguish native title and made the initiating of claims difficult and very restrictive. That needn't have happened, but it did. Unwinding the intervention was a significant challenge for the Rudd and Gillard governments. The initiative to close the gap was most welcome, but, despite the rhetoric, sadly, little has changed. Kevin Rudd's apology to the stolen generation was of momentous, historical importance and significance. It marked a huge step forward. But the gathering at Uluru and the Statement from the Heart in May 2017 have provided the opportunity to reset the agenda. There is simply no excuse now, in 2022, for any government to walk away from the need for constitutional recognition of a voice to the parliament, truth-telling and a process of treaty.
So, when I reflect on my over three decades in this place, I remain appalled at the failure of successive governments to come to terms with our First Peoples and accord them the recognition and the justice that is their due or, despite the rhetoric so often heard about closing the gap, to even do the simplest things by addressing the harshest poverty suffered by so many and providing them with adequate and safe housing that would do so much to change their lives. The housing crisis requires the investment of billions, not millions. That is an investment that would make such a difference to Aboriginal people in my electorate and elsewhere across the country. The COVID crisis has, in plain sight, reaffirmed the appalling result of overcrowded housing. If you're at all serious about improving health, education and employment outcomes then the housing crisis must be addressed. It's urgent. If we are to stop preventable diseases, such as rheumatic heart disease, then we must fix the housing problem.
There are so many other things that need to be done, some of which flow from the inquiry into the destruction of Indigenous heritage at Juukan Gorge. My colleague Patrick Dodson was there. This involves the need to domesticate into Australian law the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia is a signatory but has not yet domesticated it into Australian law. Most importantly, we need to incorporate the principle of free, prior and informed consent into all laws.
Following me, I hope, in this parliament will be a great Australian, Marion Scrymgour. She will be the candidate for the Labor Party. She's an Aboriginal woman of leadership and distinction and a former deputy chief minister of the Northern Territory.
I want to acknowledge and thank my colleagues from the Northern Territory who have served in this place: Bob Collins, who as a senator was my close friend; Senator Trish Crossin; Senator Nova Peris; and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. I thank them for their friendship.
I now want to conclude by, again, emphasising my heartfelt thanks for being given the honour of serving here. There cannot be a greater honour. I hope that all of you appreciate the importance of your presence here and the importance of making sure we have good government. It's going to be sad for me to leave this joint. It's been my life. I want to conclude by quoting Patrick Dodson at the National Press Club in 1985. I remember this speech because not only was I working for Patrick at the time but we had as an editor Mungo MacCallum. I'll just finish with this quote from Patrick, which I think is as relevant today as it was then: 'If this nation is to ever attempt to wear the mantle of maturity, to have any sense of pride and independence, to claim it is a just and fair society, you must first negotiate with us, the traditional owners of this country, the people you have sought to conquer. Non-Aboriginal Australians have an obligation to negotiate with us not simply on the basis of imposing preconceived interpretations of what rights we can have from you through governments but on the basis of justice and equity.' Thank you.
I rise to say a few words about the member for Lingiari, my mate, the man with the mo. I'll be very brief, but I think it would be fitting for me to say a few words and reflect upon the remarkable parliamentary career of the member for Lingiari. It's clear that there was a dedication to public service—more than three decades in this place. The testament to the endurance of the member for Lingiari and his duty to public service, I think, can sometimes be assessed by the fact that, out of the 227 members and senators that we have currently, he is the only member of parliament who sat in the Old Parliament House as a member of parliament, and it's likely, given the estimated time of the election, that by the time the election is called the member for Lingiari will have been the 23rd-longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, which, given the fact that there have been well over 1,200 House of Representatives members, is an extraordinary achievement in that time. If it weren't for the fact that he lost the election in 1996, which unfortunately many of our parliamentary colleagues did, he rather than the member for Menzies would be Father of the House now—the longest-serving member.
His spread of parliamentary roles included being an executive member of the Hawke government, the Keating government, the Gillard government and the Rudd government. The breadth of his policy went through social services, Indigenous rights, employment and health. He had many roles in the area of defence: defence materiel, veterans and defence personnel. As the shadow defence minister, I have the good fortune of seeking his counsel in this portfolio and other portfolios. The true breadth and depth of his experience and expertise as a parliamentarian is almost without parallel, and I just wanted to pay tribute to him. Of course, I've spent 17 years as a co-tenant, and some people would say some people get less for murder! The fact is that he is a remarkable parliamentarian with an extraordinary history and he deserves that recognition.