Tuesday, 24 March 2015
Thank you, Mr President, and Senate colleagues. I want to take this opportunity to pay my respects to you and to thank you. It has been an honour to work with many of you over many years as we have sought to make this extraordinary country a better place in which to live and work. Obviously this occasion lends itself to a little reflection. I want to begin by saying that being a senator for the ACT has been an incredible experience. I have had the privilege of being part of an extraordinary community. It is the best-case scenario as a politician—having a smart, engaged, politically savvy electorate. I want to thank the people of the Australian Capital Territory for their support through seven elections and through 19 years and 22 days.
I believe that inside everybody is the desire to contribute to the greater good. Here in Canberra you see it formally through the work of members of the Australian Public Service and the Australian Defence Force. I want to take this opportunity to pay my respects to both public servants and members of the ADF. In particular, last Saturday a commemoration ceremony was held at the Australian War Memorial for all those who have served and who have lost their lives in recent conflicts. I extend my sincerest condolences to the families that have lost their loved ones. I give my heartfelt thanks to those who have served Australia and who continue to do so. Your work is truly valued by the community and your parliamentary representatives.
However, for those in the service of the public, job security and employment conditions become enmeshed in the shallower end of some of our profession's deliberations, and I am sorry to see this occur. As public servants and serving Defence personnel, you deserve better—and there remains important work to do to honour the principles informing the original undertaking relating to the maintaining of the purchasing power of your respective retirement incomes.
Like all close communities in our beautiful country, Canberra's heart and soul is found within people's volunteer efforts, extracurricular activities, unconditional caring and giving, welcoming of new migrants and refugees, lifelong learning, philanthropy, creativity and sustainment of our community through community and sporting clubs. It is often at times of crisis that you see this generous heart, such as what happened when people turned out to support the family of a woman murdered in her own home or after the devastating fires of 2003. I say thank you to all of you. You have inspired me every day to be the best I can be on your behalf and you will continue to inspire me as I find other ways to contribute.
Beyond the community warmth that we know so well, Canberra has another important dimension: it is the national capital. In this way, Canberrans are the collective custodians of the heart of our democracy. Our national institutions house our treasures, records, native flora, art and history. The Commonwealth of Australia, this parliament, carries the responsibility of sustaining the principles that govern the relationship for planning between both the Commonwealth and the ACT. The interaction and collaboration between the now amply mature territory legislature and its ACT planning authority and the National Capital Authority is the key. It has not been without its dramas over the years and there have been quite a few inquiries of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories.
One such inquiry related to Norfolk Island. I wish the government, the opposition and, indeed, the parliament the very best in their united pursuit to create a more effective way to support the people of Norfolk Island to manage and participate in their economy and society. I wish the people of Norfolk Island the best. They deserve better than what they have.
I am really proud to have seen how this city has grown over the last 20 years. I congratulate the ACT government for its part in Canberra's progress. I acknowledge the role successive territory governments have played in Canberra's development. I know the Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, will provide the inspired leadership we need right now as federal expenditure continues to contract. His commitment to economic growth, innovation and infrastructure will provide a critical counterbalance to the economy-wide impact of the cuts. He fills the very big shoes left by Katy Gallagher, who will soon take her place here in the Senate.
On the nature of cutbacks, it would be remiss of me not to remind people that Labor told you so. Many here in Canberra, including commentators, were beguiled by the fake budget crisis and disingenuous promise to limit cuts to voluntary redundancies. I cannot tell you how infuriating it is to have public sector jobs treated in such a cavalier way and notably relative to other regional jobs, which have policymakers doing somersaults to save them. All jobs are important, as is productivity.
Productivity is most likely to grow on the back of technological innovation, like it has always done. Is it so surprising that the only logical conclusion that can be drawn by markets when programs supporting technological innovation, research and development are cut is that productivity is not, in fact, a priority? The last 20 years we have seen the pace of technological change escalate, impacting on how we live our lives and share our experiences. Navigating the policy terrain accompanying the many changes has been a challenge that I have relished. It remains one of the most complex, demanding and fast-moving areas of public policy.
I decided even before I was elected that I would apply myself to the task of ensuring through progressive policies that technological change was harnessed for progressive outcomes. In my first speech, I reflected on information and how it is communicated as being a major determinant of power and why universal access to the internet was required if we were serious about harnessing the next phase of economic expansion and social participation. For this reason, the National Broadband Network as it was under Labor stands out for me as the substantive achievement of our generation in parliament and certainly of the previous Labor government. It breaks my heart and offends my vision for this country to see the vision and now the plan so vandalised.
I can say this with authority because I did much of the work exposing the underinvestment in Telstra's copper network during the Howard government in excruciating estimates hearings, back in the day when it was not unusual to sit until 4 am. I would race home for an hour's sleep, get up, get the children to school and do it all again. Unfortunately for Australia, that government's primary concern in comms and IT policy was maximising the returns to shareholders through the sale of Telstra. As a nation we lost ground. I believe the fibre-to-the-premises wholesale NBN made up this ground. In contrast, the multitechnology-mix model is a complete reversion.
Why is the real NBN important? The internet is both an open platform of knowledge and the practical embodiment of distributed power—of democratic participation. The NBN is the pipe in which data flows. If information is power, then now we can all have some, affordably, wherever we live. It is my hope that my colleagues can find a path back to the real NBN, and I wish them well in this task. I remember back in the late nineties, when I was regaling my colleagues with my ideas about the potential of the internet, I was told by one of them that the internet was indeed a fad and that I would stuff up my career if I kept at it. Obviously, I did not listen. And you know who you are. One of my most shameless stunts was facilitated by Tom Worthington, the then president of the Australian Computer Society. In an elaborate exercise back in my first year as senator, we were the first people in the world to download a photo from a hot-air balloon to the internet. That was no mean feat back in 1996.
I believe in technology. I believe in the people that create it, and I celebrate the disruption that it causes. It can solve any problem, provided the problem is well understood and the ethical boundaries of any solution are well-defined. I have been on almost all of the communications and IT related Senate inquiries over the last 20 years, except when I was a minister, of course. Most of the time governments are trying to solve problems that are not well understood, with tools they know little about and the ethical boundaries of any solution are either confused or absent. The responsibility for these things falls to the leadership group of any entity, be it cabinet or, in the private sector, the board. After all, good information is the precursor to making good decisions.
Many of my friends know that Alan Turing is one person who inspires me greatly. This story is easier to tell now that a movie has finally been made that goes some way to giving an insight into this extraordinary person who made something new to solve an urgent and diabolical problem. I draw on his personal journey for understanding the enablers for profound technological progress. The tag line for that movie, called The Imitation Game, is 'Sometimes it is the people no-one imagines anything of, that do the things no-one can imagine.' It reminds me that our responsibility is to provide every person, regardless of gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status et cetera, with opportunity. How? Through education, by removing discrimination in all its forms and by encouraging creativity and original thought. If we can do this, then we have a society that can do anything. As an aside, I was really proud of the anti-racism campaign that former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and I launched when ministers. Time has shown how necessary it is to remain vigilant in the fight against racism.
Just to bring it all back home, in all of that, we have come a long way in 20 years. I bought my own PC and software in 1996 and organised a humble dial-up service to be privately connected to my office, here in Parliament House, so I could build and update my website. In those days it was not expected that senators and members needed or used a computer. Social media did not exist, and most parliamentarians were not sure what the internet was. Later, I remember hosting colleagues for what I called a 'breakfast for technophobes' and explaining that their emails were all kept on servers, for years, for evidentiary use if required. People were shocked, outraged and ultimately happy to continue using the system because the amenity outweighed the risk.
Since then, there have many issues where outrage is expressed and people are still happy to continue using the system because the amenity outweighs the risk. Take the internet filter, interactive gambling and the metadata debate as examples of where the devil is definitely in the detail and in the political projection of the problem. The inability to explain detail and the opportunism in the safety/security narrative fuels distrust in the perceived hidden agenda, the unintended consequence, the unethical or sinister motivation and, finally, the lack of transparency and accountability.
With the exception of Labor's promotion of the internet filter in government—which I note that I opposed after we opposed it in opposition, when I was the shadow minister—invariably it is left to Labor in opposition to do the hard yards on the detail of the new laws, to expose the hidden agenda, to remove the unintended consequences and to prevent the sinister motivation by creating transparency and accountability within the regime. It is Labor that comes up with the frustratingly complicated compromise, and it is Labor that often gets wedged between the political projection of the extremes in the process. But it is Labor that puts evidence, not emotion, at the forefront of its deliberations, and it is Labor that is prepared to compromise for the sake of progress and in the interests of the public and the nation.
In short, I believe it is possible to design solutions to solve a well-understood problem, within well-defined ethical boundaries. I know that privacy and security can coexist in an accountable and transparent framework. While the absence of a simplistic, pithy yes/no position on such issues can be disappointing for many Labor supporters, it is a process that honours a standard and heritage of a party that acts in the national interest, not political self-interest or self-preservation. This approach has arguably kept us out of office for longer, and in office more briefly. But, for better or worse, this is modern Labor's narrative in an environment of ever-diminishing returns on the credibility of our political system. I thought people were cynical back in 1996; relative to now, they were downright joyous in their participation in our democracy.
At this relatively low ebb in the level of confidence in our political system, it was often the excitement and anticipation of new migrants and refugees settling in Australia that reignited my enthusiasm for our democratic system. One of the most memorable of many extraordinary experiences of my time in public office was being Minister for Multicultural Affairs. I met people every day whose life stories would both shock and inspire. I met people every day, in the settlement services sector, who devoted themselves to the wellbeing and happiness of others. I met the most motivated social and business entrepreneurs, from humble start-ups to some of our most successful global corporations. With migrants often starting from nothing, Australia boasts the most amazing list of self-made women and men.
I want a big shout out to go to our multicultural ambassadors, appointed to that role to reflect their leadership and contribution. These people were active in their own right within their cities, regions and communities, promoting, celebrating and contributing to community harmony and to making Australia's multiculturalism the best in the world. If any of you are listening, I think we should definitely have a reunion in a few months time! To everyone in the multicultural and settlement sector, I offer you my thanks and heartfelt respect for the role that you play. I thought I knew a thing or two about multiculturalism but it was not long before I realised how much I did not know. I learned so much and grew as a person because of the time I spent in this portfolio.
I also want acknowledge the work of the Australian Multicultural Council, led initially by Andrew Demetriou and then Rauf Soulio and Gail Ker, and all the members who gave their time, experience and intellect. The launch of the multicultural policy was one of the proudest single moments of my time as minister.
There are many ways to promote inclusion in Australian society and I believe sport is one of the most important and effective. Sport, in the broadest definition of the term, is one of Australia's strongest egalitarian platforms. It is part of our ethos as a nation that if you have talent, discipline and a dream, you will be able to achieve it. Given our small population we perform exceptionally well internationally. This is for a couple of reasons that are interlinked. First, we have a diverse population. Our first Australians, our Pacific islanders who now call Australia home and our multicultural character mean we can draw on a multitude of strengths. And I am not saying that just because I am sitting next to one of the most highly acclaimed Aboriginal sports people in Australia, by the way. Having Senator Peris here in the Senate is a reflection on her strength of character and political substance. Senator Peris is a fantastic role model in a multitude of roles, an inspiring woman of substance and, I am proud to say, a friend.
In general our diverse population is a core strength, but it only comes into play because Australia has the broadest possible participation base at the heart of our system of sport. Participation unlocks the opportunity to explore one's sporting potential. The high achievers, the sports stars, inspire the next generation of participants. In this way the relationship between sustaining the participation base and supporting high performance is inextricable. They go together. Participation in sport also provides far more than the sum of its parts. How do you place a dollar value on these things, just to name a few—physical and mental health, social inclusion, a sense of belonging, teamwork, discipline, respect, community pride and national pride. Name another area of public policy that does all of these things so effectively and then have a quick look at the total budget of sport relative to other areas of social expenditure. My colleagues know my passion for sport and protecting its budget. Never has so little budget done so much for so many—I know you will forgive me for that!
For millions of Australians and their families, their hour or two of sport as participants and spectators is often the most fun hour or two of the week. It brings families and friends together; generations, across families, stay close through their team loyalty. We need only look to Senator Conroy to see the absolute personification of a football fanatic—and we all know you scored a hat-trick against the SBS All Stars at the Harmony Day match last week!
My passion for sport means that I am prepared to defend it at all costs. I was tested on this when the Australian Crime Commission report was released when I was the Minister for Sport. It gave me the opportunity to work with the sports to harden their environments and protect their athletes and their game against new threats from new drugs and methodologies used for cheating as well as the infiltration of criminal elements. There was not a bone in my body that was willing to sweep that aside or disassociate myself with the bad news. It was a turning point for sport all right—one that, that to their credit, the sports leadership fully subscribed to. In unprecedented circumstances I acted in the best interests of Australian sport: the ACC described the problem and the government worked with the sports to fix the problem on behalf of all the clean athletes, the ethical clubs and the parents who were deciding if and where their child would be playing sport. For all the pain and discomfort I am proud that Australian sport remains the most accountable, cleanest, safest sporting environment in the world and that other countries now look to Australia to improve their integrity regimes in the way that we have done.
Before I leave the issue of sport, there is one more thing I feel compelled to reflect upon—and it will not surprise you. How is it that, despite women being 50 per cent of our population, women's sport is so ridiculously under-represented on our television sets? The answer is that editorial decisions are made to under-invest in, or ignore, that content's potential. And the business case has never been tested in Australia; it is the exception that provides the evidence for their folly. Where the women's game is actively integrated with the men's game, there is no problem at all with the popularity, ratings or business case. Examples include the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games, the Commonwealth Games and the Australian Open. Credit to Netball Australia and the WNBL as they have achieved remarkable results in the most challenging of circumstances. Keep up the fight for the right to be broadcasted. It is both pathetic and disgraceful that the urgent need to develop a sustainable business model around the broadcast of women's sport has been so ignored by broadcasters. It is not like it needs a subsidy—although it probably does need one just to keep going. It needs the belief that if you build it, invest in it, promote it properly, advertise on it and sponsor it, it will fly. Just try it! Maybe then our female athletes can also earn what they deserve for doing what they are best at. These are perennial issues that should not be perennial. I wish my colleagues all the best in solving these problems and I will continue to be passionate about them.
In all my time in this place I have tried to draw on my vision for Australia as a guide. One of the great benefits of being part of a large party like the Labor party is that you have the ability to specialise in areas of policy. The corollary of this is that you rely heavily on colleagues in areas where they are specialists and you are not, and you accept to be bound by the decisions of the caucus. My vision was always focused on where we go to next, where the jobs will come from and how we retain our humanity and sustain our environment as we leverage technology more and more and find ourselves drawn into new challenges. Australia needs to have a fair, civil, healthy, engaged and educated society that values and leverages its cultural diversity to build social cohesion and global engagement. This society needs to be supported by a diverse, digitally enabled economy that is growing sustainably through our investments in everything from education to innovation.
I believe in living a full life and I have decided to pursue the things I am passionate about in a different way. Nearly 20 years in the Senate has been long enough. Like most people, I have had ups and downs in my career. It has been far more creative than I would have thought possible, and I certainly came at it not wanting to fit the standard mould at the time. I wanted to innovate, to try and do things differently and to see what the internet could do to help me engage with the people I represent. Technology has been at my side through this journey. I want to acknowledge three people in this regard who at different points have given me the confidence and inspiration to make this so—Tom Worthington, Jason Ives and the amazing Pia Waugh.
Personally, sport plays a huge role in my life. It helps me to outpace the 'black dog'. I love how the sports groups in the parliament have evolved; many of my favourite personal moments have been playing footy, netball and rowing. I recall one particular race—a coxed four no less—at the 1998 Australian Masters Games here on Lake Burley Griffin. Our crew was Senator Penny Wong, Catherine King MP, Kirsten Livermore MP, me and Michelle O'Byrne MP, who was cox. We managed a bronze medal that year. I cannot remember what division it was, but it is a brilliant memory for us all.
And so I am moving on to new things. I am excited, happy, relieved and more than a little nostalgic to be leaving one of the best roles one could ever hope to have in a wonderful country like Australia. In my new role as director of the NRMA, I am excited to be part of a mutual association that has a deep history in representing motorists and road users. And to be involved in technology start-ups is something I have always wanted to do.
Holding public office is an illusion in some respects. All that people see is the senator, the MP, but we are sustained by institutions, our party members, our colleagues, the parliamentary services and of course our staff and our families. I would like to say just a couple of words about each.
I want to thank the staff of the parliament, in particular the Clerk of the Senate, Rosemary Laing, and the late Harry Evans before her; the staff of the committees; the Library; the Education Office; the volunteers; hospitality staff; everyone at Aussies; the wonderful security guards; the tech support—I got to know them well; the sound and vision staff; the tradies; the Comcar staff; and the cleaners, who clean our offices every day. There are many more but the list got too long.
The current goings on, the subject of an inquiry, will hopefully lead to improvements. I think you all deserve better. Thank you for your esprit de corps over the years and thank you for helping me whenever I have needed it.
To the ALP branch members here in Canberra: I feel like I am part of a big family. We have campaigned together and have attended a ridiculous number of meetings and conferences. You have held me to account and given me great ideas to move forward. Thank you.
I am a proud former union official and I want to thank the ACT unions for their unwavering loyalty over so many years. In particular, I want to mention United Voice. We have worked together to promote fair pay and affordable, high-quality childcare, as well as to stamp out the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers. I am proud to have worked with you and the other unions on important campaigns.
To my parliamentary colleagues: I am going to miss you. What an amazing group of people! It has just been incredible. You do get to know people who are on committees perhaps more than by any other way. I have had a wonderful experience on all of the Senate committees. People have put up with me on those committees, with often endless meandering questions. But I can assure you that I had a plan!
I want to acknowledge and thank John Faulkner. He was my mentor, whether he knew it or not. I am lucky to have made so many friends in the party and of course across party lines.
To soon-to-be-senator Katy Gallagher: I could not be happier or prouder that someone of your calibre and standing is replacing me here. It makes me feel great, knowing that you will be here, taking your place on behalf of Canberrans. To you and your family, David, Abby, Charlie and Evie: I wish you all the luck in the world.
To my staff—and I have had a lot over the 20 years—I particularly want to mention Kate Ward, Meg Martin and Taryn Langdon. They are all more than staff. To the rest of my current staff, staff in my former ministerial office, staff going back literally 20 years: we just cannot do our jobs without you. It is what allows us to do our work with confidence, to get from place to place and to understand the complex issues that we are presented with. Thank you so much for your work. In particular, I would like to wish Taryn and Ash the best for the birth of their first child, due in a mere three days! Taryn: you have been incredible, in the latter stages of your pregnancy, helping wind things up in the office. Thank you so much.
To my family: my family keeps me grounded. They are so wonderful. Not only have they ensured that I keep my head firmly in the right place but they have reminded me from time to time about what is and what is not real. My late grandmother, Mira Barratt, used to ring me and tell me off if she saw me interjecting in question time. It was like: 'Oh, I didn't mean to. I was provoked, Grandma!
To my mother Helen and father Peter, and stepmother Maureen; my brother Charles and his wife Bronwen; my nephews, Max and Jack: thank you. I would also like to mention my late sister Jane's children: Olivia, Sophie and James. To each of you, thank you for your unrelenting support in quite extenuating circumstances. When the wheels fall off my system, you are always there to help me pick up the pieces.
But most of all, to my children: Alexandra, Annabelle and Ben, and my stepsons Robert and Matthew, thank you for your understanding about what I have needed and wanted to do in public life. You are all remarkable young people. I would not have been able to do this without your understanding and support. It has been an incredible journey and today I say goodbye to the Senate. But I do so happily, inspired and feeling extremely confident that not only will you fulfil the challenges before you but you will do it in a way that continues to inspire other people. Let the next generation of young people be inspired, who look to our democracy and who seek that inspiration. Good luck to all of you and thank you so much.