Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Parliamentary Representation


5:27 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to contribute remarks on behalf of the opposition on the occasion of the valedictory for my fellow South Australian Senator Wright. It is unfortunate that the demanding nature of politics often leads to conflict with our family responsibilities. In this case, Senator Wright has chosen to put her family first. We respect and acknowledge that and pass on our best wishes to her family.

When reflecting on my contribution today and on Senator Wright's career, I thought particularly of the conviction of her beliefs and her dedication to the causes and issues she fervently believes in. As she referenced today in her speech, she is not a recent convert to green politics, having been a founding member of the Greens in South Australia over 20 years ago. In her first speech, Senator Wright remarked that she was lucky to be born into a big rambunctious family, number six of seven children. I am sure that prepared her well for her experiences in the Greens party room and in the Senate.

In relation to her comments about dog years, I think she is right. And when it comes to the greying of the hair, I hear you—that is all I can say. Not only has Senator Wright's time in this place demonstrated her passion for environmental causes, but also I have been particularly struck by her continued and deep commitment to human rights and the law, as well as to mental health and education. In her time in parliament, she has held positions most notably on the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee including as chair of the references committee in the current parliament, as well as on the Joint Committee on Human Rights and on the Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement and Integrity. These appointments reflect her interest and her expertise in this area, which she obviously brought to this place from her previous experience as a lawyer and advocate, which have also complemented her role as legal affairs spokesperson for the party.

Senator Wright has today spoken about some of the priorities of her work, including justice reinvestment. I would say this: Senator Wright came to this chamber as a lawyer, and in her work and focus in this place she has demonstrated a consistent adherence to some of the best and highest principles of the legal profession, including the rule of law and the rights of the individual.

Another significant portfolio responsibility that Senator Wright has held within her party throughout her time in the Senate is that of mental health. I know she has brought a dedicated and passionate approach to this policy area, which was overlooked for many years at the highest level of public policy in this nation. Thankfully, I think that time has passed. She has also been an outspoken advocate for quality public education.

On a lighter note, I know that some people will now find it much less confusing that there is only one Penny W from South Australia in the Senate! In fact, I have had many people say to me that there clearly is a statistical advantage to being called 'Penny from South Australia' in terms of getting into the Senate! I understand that on one occasion a poster banner that Senator Wright had ordered about offshore drilling near Kangaroo Island was delivered to her office addressed to Senator Penny Wong. I am told that this was the source of much mirth amongst her staff. I am sure that was not the only occasion on which there has been a confusion of identity. I know I have regularly been asked about what it was like in the Greens party. There you go!

As Senator Wright has acknowledged in the statement she issued to announce her resignation, there are many things she is still keen to achieve. I suspect that is the case for almost everyone who comes into this place on the occasion of our leaving, because the nature of politics and the nature of political reform—particularly for those on the progressive side of politics—is that there is always something left to do. So, despite her time in the Senate being at an end, I hope that Senator Wright will continue to make a valuable contribution to the life of our nation in the future and, particularly, to the life of our state. We thank her for her service to the Australian people in the Australian Senate.


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