Thursday, 26 June 2008
I would like to add my voice to the acknowledgement of the contribution of Senator Webber and other departing senators. As I explained in my own valedictory last night, because of the unique circumstances facing the Democrats I did not have the time I would normally have to acknowledge the contribution of others or broader issues. I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge particularly Senator Webber, and also the other 13 departing senators who are leaving this chamber alongside me, plus Senator Ray.
Senator Webber, like Senator Kirk, served for only the one term and, without passing judgement on their party’s decisions, I think that is not only a detriment to their party but also a loss to the Senate. As we all know, we are all subject to the vagaries not just of the electorate but also of the processes that get us preselected—or not preselected—for this place. I certainly do not seek to pass judgement on other parties for their decision-making, but I think the departure of both of these women is nonetheless a loss to the Senate and, I believe, premature. The work of Senator Kirk and her expertise—I certainly know of her expertise in the area of immigration but she had expertise in other areas also—was of real value to the Senate in its core role of legislating. This role is often seriously undervalued and under-recognised, particularly by the media and others.
I have said it many times before and I will not have much opportunity to say it again, so I will say it one more time: we need to continually remind people that the vast majority of the things we do here—the arguments we have, the debates we have—is focused around the legislative process; that is, laws. Those laws affect people’s lives directly and often quite enormously. Often they affect very large numbers of people, and we do need to have people here who have the expertise and the focus to work on the legislative process and the detail. Both Senator Webber and Senator Kirk have that expertise and that focus. It is understandable—but I think it is a really unfortunate trait—that when outsiders assess the careers of politicians they basically tick off the titles and, for major party people, whether they got to the front bench, whether they were a minister or whether they got into cabinet. Of course, those things are important, but it does have the unfortunate side effect of suggesting that the role of backbenchers is somehow lesser. And it is not always lesser. I can absolutely guarantee that from my time here.
I have seen some people in backbench roles who have made an enormous difference, and I would add into that another departing senator from the other side, Senator Watson. As others have reflected, his expertise in areas of superannuation and tax has made a direct contribution. The very fact that people such as these have made their contribution in part by persuading others, and have therefore had change made by widespread agreement rather than by a crash or crash through type of thing, or being the person leading the charge out the front means it does not get noticed as much. But the change is just as real and sometimes more sustainable as well. I acknowledge the contributions of Senator Webber, Senator Kirk and also Senator George Campbell, the other departing Labor senator, who has been here slightly longer than I—just a brief period. He came in just before me in 1997. All of them in my experience have been effective in different roles. I have had more to do with the first two than with Senator Campbell, at least in committee and legislative work. I pay tribute and acknowledge what they have done.
I recall the work Senator Webber put into the stem cell legislation and I have some recollection of the work she put into me and to the vote I might take on that. I should say I am still not sure whether or not I should have voted the way I did.