Thursday, 26 June 2008
It is quite a strange feeling to be saying goodbye to so many senators and I note Senator Webber’s reference to the situation where we will have some 39 senators in this place with less than three years experience under their belt. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those senators that I have had the privilege of working with during their time here.
To Senator Patterson, thank you for your friendship and contribution. I got to know Senator Patterson on the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee when she was chair of the committee. I remember many a late night discussing things as we worked through the very long agendas of those committees. She is a fascinating person, a strong personality and I know she will be missed in this place.
Senator Lightfoot was the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories for as long as I can remember and, being a member of that committee for as long as I have been here as well, I would like to say that it was a pleasure to work with Senator Lightfoot. I appreciate his stewardship of that committee over such a long time.
I have worked with all of the Democrat senators, Senator Stott Despoja, Senator Allison, Senator Bartlett and Senator Murray on a whole range of senate committees from time to time over the last 12 years or so. In particular, Senator Murray and I worked very closely together on some of the early IT outsourcing Senate inquiries, which have faded into the dim history of the Senate now but remain strong in my memory at least. A powerful legacy left by Senator Murray is what is known as the ‘Murray motion’, the production of the lists of contracts by agencies and departments to allow greater accountability and scrutiny in this place of how agencies and departments expend taxpayers’ dollars through contracts.
To Senator Kemp, I wish you well in the future and I wanted to note that I think you did have a bit of fun at the last round of Senate estimates trying to relive the glory days of your portfolio in the stewardship of the arts and sport portfolio, asking officials if they could quantify the gains to their respective programs and agencies during Senator Kemp’s tenure as minister. I have to say that I was quite happy to let him go down this track because, from time to time, all my colleagues know that I found Senator Kemp’s conduct at Senate estimates quite exasperating. And the trick was not to show it because, if you showed it, he got all excited and played up, making it very difficult for me to do my job. I have no doubt that this was a deliberate tactic on his part and I would like to thank Senator Kemp for the role he played in helping me practise my poker face and trying not to show the frustration I was feeling. Senator Kemp, I wish you all the best in the future.
I obviously want to reflect on my Labor colleagues Senator Ruth Webber, George Campbell and Linda Kirk and to say a few words about Senator Robert Ray. Senator George Campbell is one of those people whose reputation did precede him into this place well and truly. I knew him from my time at the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union through the various building union events over the years and other Labor left activities.
He was a fierce campaigner, and this very traditional advocacy for working people took on new dimensions when in the hands of Senator Campbell. His ability to translate the aspirations of the proud employees of the critical industry sector, that being manufacturing, on to another plane of the economic debate was quite inspiring for me to observe. His grasp of the global economic challenges that faced and still face manufacturing as a sector in Australia has ensured that manufacturing has remained a centrepiece of Labor policy.
Senator Campbell’s capacity to bring his union and membership and, while as a senator, the whole industry with him on these issues is a wonderful legacy. He has been the de facto spokesperson for manufacturing, regardless of his actual position within federal Labor. I think it is appropriate to say thank you on behalf of all of the employees, business and unions—everyone alike—that are in some way engaged with manufacturing to Senator George Campbell for his advocacy on behalf of manufacturing in this country.
I also have a reason to thank Senator George Campbell as Opposition Whip. I live here in Canberra, and I know I am very lucky in this regard, because I get to see my family more often. It also means I am able to get to parent-teacher nights and to pick up the kids if they are stuck. Senator Campbell, as whip, helped me with the pairs necessary to make my family life a little more normal. For this, I am very grateful. These small things to help out me, my husband and the kids meant a great deal and I thank him sincerely for that.
Senator Linda Kirk made us all sit up and take notice with her first speech. We have all reflected on it at one point or another. It was thoughtful and confronting. I am dismayed that I have to say goodbye to her at all, let alone so soon. We need people like Senator Kirk because of the intellect she brings to her area of expertise—the law and, in particular, constitutional law. We have had advocates in these areas before as part of the Labor team. I remember Senator Barney Cooney was previously well established in this role.
The great strength of the great Labor Party is that we can as a team leverage the incredible expertise that different individuals bring, and I particularly acknowledge Senator Kirk’s compassion and care in relation to the needs of children and child protection. She has changed lives and she has probably saved some. We are not experts at everything, and we need and we rely on these sharp minds in the Senate. For this reason, in particular, Senator Kirk will be missed—and I think noticeably.
I have not spent much time with Linda on committees, but she has a wonderful confidence-inspiring manner that I will truly miss. I would also like to acknowledge her strength of character and, in particular, her support for controversial legislation such as that dealing with RU486 and stem cell research, joining other progressive women to make history.
I would also like to say a few things about Senator Webber. You will not be surprised that it is in respect to a lot of the work and the contribution she has made to the Senate, in particular, on mental health on the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. Her work to ensure the engagement by the local government sector in housing options and the inclusion of people experiencing mental illness has left a strong legacy of improvements and assisted in firmly placing this issue at the centre of federal policy agendas.
I would like tonight to echo Senator Webber’s call that this issue continue to be pursued with the specific focus that she outlined. It makes sense, it is a strong vision for the future and we would be wise to listen. I trust that good use is made of this expertise in one way or in another in the future. The sort of experience gained by so many years of developing a thorough and in-depth knowledge ought not be squandered in any way.
I would also like to note her representation of the people of Western Australia. Her abiding commitment to make sure that communities outside the city and way up north in the Kimberley and the mining towns were represented is to be acknowledged and commended. Again, coming from Canberra, I find it hard to grasp the burden of travel that my colleagues from the west and the far north endure, let alone the scope of their duties in representing remote communities and giving them a voice in this place.
In Senator Webber’s case this voice, we all know, is loud—literally—but it is loud in a political sense, and she has been an effective voice for the people of regional, rural and remote Western Australia. I should also mention that one of her advocacy causes has been the frustrations experienced by people in the west in relation to broadband and access speeds. This is an issue that I have a great interest in, and Ruth has given form and substance to these complaints and made sure that the west has been well and truly represented in the telecommunications debate as a result.
I would also like to acknowledge the leadership role she played with respect to the stem cell research legislation. I think Ruth’s leadership on and commitment to the RU486 debate will go down in history. She and Linda have stood side by side with a group of progressive women who changed the rules in this place in the sense that we stood up and made a difference.
I would like to close by making a few comments about Senator Robert Ray. Senator Ray is not here. It was very strange for me, reading about his early departure in the press and then finding his office already cleaned out. Senator Robert Ray has been an incredible inspiration to me. Not only has his capacity to articulate a principle and then pursue a policy path and a path of action based on those principles served me as a strong guide in appropriate conduct and contribution to this place, but he will certainly always stand in my mind as a wonderful role model, mentor and inspiration. For that, I would like to thank Senator Robert Ray from the bottom of my heart—the leadership that he provided to me as a new senator, many years ago now, and for the contribution he continued to make in a whole range of areas, not least the dignity of this institution throughout the course of his Senate career.
To all of the departing senators, thank you from me personally and thank you for the work you have done in this place. You will be missed.