Wednesday, 3 April 2019
I just want to put on record that every time I've been called to speak in this place by any President or Deputy President I've always had a special shiver, and that shiver is with me tonight. As I did with my first speech, I begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of this land then paying my respects to elders of all cultures. The Labor senators who came here in 2001—Ruth Webber, Linda Kirk, Ursula Stephens, Gavin Marshall and Penny Wong—had the special privilege of having an introduction session with the inimitable John Faulkner and Robert Ray. During that session we were advised—I remember this so clearly—that the speeches that would be most remembered about most of us in this place would probably be the first one and those made about us after we're dead. That was possibly not particularly comforting for those who were terrified about our looming first speeches but it makes me a little bit more confident about this one tonight.
I was not particularly keen to make this speech this evening but I decided, after some thought, that what I wanted to do was put on record my thankyous to so many people who have meant so much to me and who have made this experience great. When that initial grouping got together, that was our first opportunity to meet the amazing range of people who care so much about this place, our system and this marvellous building and who wrap services around us to ensure that we can do our job as well as we can and be part of this continuing legacy of the Senate, the parliament and our history. In that time they made me aware that probably nothing I personally could do would bring down this Senate. That was a comfort: as the Senate has continued since 1901—so far, so good.
I want to start by thanking Richard and the Clerk team. You follow on from the most amazing people. When we were first here, I was given so much support and encouragement by people like Harry Evans—wonderful—Anne Lynch and Rosemary Laing. I recently was talking with Rosemary and I said that I lived in this place to ensure that she never frowned at something I did or said. She, as always, was inscrutable and gave me the belief that I had not done so. I hope that was genuine.
I also want to remember the remarkable Cleaver Elliott. In my time, his passion, commitment, knowledge and humour gave me and so many other people such a great understanding of the importance of what we do and how we can do it better. He took this knowledge not just to our parliaments but to parliaments across the Pacific, and there are still people who talk about the training sessions that Cleaver did in other parliaments that make me proud not just of him but of our whole system.
I pressed twice to get more water tonight just so I could see the attendants who look after us so well in this place again. Thank you, John, so much. John, Bryan, Adrienne, Rosemary, and Fiona and all those who've gone before you, I thank you for your unstinting help, greetings and positive nature. Whether it's 9:00 in the morning or 2:30 in the morning, they never fail to make us feel welcome and to let us know they're around here looking after us. Thank you so much to all of you.
To Hansard, all of you, everyone in Hansard: I apologise for my appalling notes. I know they're quite well known in the Hansard area and they won't be any better this evening either. I also thank you for exposing my overuse of the meaningless adverb 'actually'. Just scrub it out every time I say 'actually'—that's worked so far so good.
To Broadcasting: I apologise for my noisy jewellery. I know it has caused trouble in the past and people know when I'm speaking. It's a bit like having a cat with a bell on it—they know when I'm about to speak. I do apologise because I realise over the years that I tend to talk to you. When I'm talking in this place, I know you're supposed to speak to the President but I find when I'm speaking that I'm inevitably talking to Broadcasting. I apologise and I hope you haven't found it too threatening.
To all the people in Parliamentary Services here and in Brisbane, thank you so much. Our team has been served so well by your patience, your consideration and also your effort. You really cared about the services you were providing to us—the people who helped us in Brisbane particularly—so thank you so much. There have been some moves and so on but you've always been great, so I wanted to say thank you and I will be seeing you before I leave.
To 2020: thank you for your patience, understanding and inevitable nonjudgement. Whenever I have dealt with you, it's been fantastic. To the Comcar drivers, wherever you are, I'm not sure whether people truly understand the value of your service until they no longer have that service—that's what I've heard from other people. Thank you for the courtesy, the absolute certainty that we're going to be looked after and for the knowledge that, again, people care. The team in Brisbane can stop having that contest about whether they will get there before I'm waiting for them. It's been going on for years and I know it's been looked at but I like to be early, at least to start with—that's important.
To the security people, you are always helpful, always smiling, making everyone feel welcome. For those of us who have had the wonderful opportunity to travel, Colin and Onu in the international branch have been there for us and have worked miracles when there have been some very tight times. Thank you so much. And, Colin, you will have to find more people to come to those lunches now at the last moment. Thank you for the opportunities.
To the people in the gym, thank you. There are some people here who know about the wonderful services of the gym. I know there are people who have never seen where it is. If you do get the opportunity, pop down and see them; it's usually not fatal.
To Dom and Bridget and the whole team at Aussies: If there is one thing that brings unity to this parliament, it is Aussies. They absolutely care for us, and the place offers us welcome all the time. Thank you so much. We will miss you. Also, to the dining room staff and all the people who serve at so many of our functions, thank you. It often strikes me in this place how you will see people serving at breakfast early in the morning and then you see the same people serving at late-night functions on the same day. I think we all benefit from the extent of their service, their work and their professionalism. I really want to put on record how much I care for them and for the cleaners in this place—absolutely. We see them, we smile at them. Their work is exceptionally caring and professional, and they're part of this building. They're part of a team that lives here. Thank you so much. I have probably forgotten people, but I will just put on record that we all know that you care for this place and that you've extended that care to each of us—so thank you very much.
I particularly want to thank all the people who have made submissions and provided evidence to Senate and other parliamentary committees. For me, our committee system is the heart of our Senate. We have extraordinary opportunities to hear from people who care deeply about issues which affect them. I've been shocked, angered, inspired, challenged and brought to tears sometimes by the contributions to our committees. Each of those red and white books that we all have in our libraries, sometimes way too many, reflects important issues that people have felt the confidence and the trust to bring to us, because they wanted their parliament, their Senate, to hear what was important and how they can make changes to policy—and they work. So many amazing policies, so many programs, so many royal commissions, have come from the work of the committees in our Senate. I think it's important that we know that that system is there, that we value it as it should be valued and that we use it to its best extent. It is what I always say makes our Senate special.
Committees also provide us the opportunity to work together as a Senate, regardless of which party we come from and regardless of what we think we know about an issue. It's our chance to work together as a committee, to travel together, to get to know more about each other—which is sometimes a little difficult. It also provides real friendships. I have to say that, through my work on a number of committees, I've established friendships with senators from across this place, which remain very true and very special for me. Our committee process also gives us the opportunity to make friendships and connections with people who have come to talk with us. Through many of the committees on which I've worked, I now have people whom I consider friends, who come to me with their purposes and their causes and who stay in contact. I can't name them all; it would be inappropriate. But I think I do have to mention at least Leonie Sheedy and the amazing CLAN group, whom we got to know through important committees around the forgotten Australians—those forgotten Australians who will never be forgotten anymore. We made that promise to them.
There are also people in the mental health area. We had an extraordinary committee inquiry into Australia's mental health many years ago. Those connections are still there—the advocates, the professionals, the people who care. It's hard to pick out particular ones, but I want to put on record this evening that the experience many of us in this place had working on issues around women's gynaecological cancer changed lives. We had the opportunity to work with people who were looking at their own condition and at their own death in many ways but who were still prepared to come and share, to ask and to express needs that we could actually then give back in policy. The increased focus on ovarian cancer and other forms of gynaecological cancer which are now active in Cancer Australia came directly from that committee. The unity that we had in the parliament in supporting that issue and the royal commissions will always be very special moments for me.
Something we all know when talking about the committees is that we could not operate without the secretariats. Those men and women who give so much to keep these committees operating are really the backbone. Over the years, I have relied on so many and worked with them, sometimes with extraordinary expectations from ministers in terms of the deadlines put on the committee work. We need to treasure those people and to remind them constantly of the good work they do. I think it is something we all can share.
I also want to thank the governments who've been strong enough to say sorry. There was the time when my friend Kevin Rudd said sorry to Indigenous Australians in this place. I felt that this building actually throbbed. I felt the earth move when that expression was made, across not just this place but the whole of our nation. That apology, that identification that we had people in our nation who had been wronged, Indigenous people who had been wronged, and that the government—our government, our Prime Minister—on behalf of each of us was prepared to stand up and say sorry was extraordinarily special, and it continues to be important.
That experience has been had three more times, and I hope it will continue to happen. For the people who were in institutional care, Kevin, again, was the Prime Minister of the day. It took a bit of encouragement, because he and other people were concerned about whether he would be known just for saying sorry. But I think the importance was known by the whole of the parliament—that when you have a wrong you need to apologise. From the experiences that we heard, again through the committee system, we have now made an apology to the people who were in institutional care, which continues to remain so important to them.
Then again, a few years later, we had the forced adoptions inquiry. We met women and their children and their families who were damaged by governments in Australia—some of them thought they were doing the right thing, but nonetheless lives were damaged—and again our parliament, our government, decided that this was such a great wrong that we needed to say sorry. I, and people who have met those people, continue to understand how important that experience was.
So I want to thank governments that are strong enough to say sorry. Very recently Prime Minister Morrison actually took the apology statement to people who had been identified through the royal commission process as having suffered sexual abuse in institutions. Again, you could feel the way that the parliament was connecting with people, with our community, and I think that's what makes us strong. So thank you to those governments who knew that they could say they were sorry.
I want to say thank you to my party, the Australian Labor Party, and particularly to the members of the Queensland branch who have given me the opportunity to serve as a Queensland senator in this place. When you actually make that oath and sign those amazingly large and important historical documents that sit there when new senators come on, it is a contract. It is a position of trust. I really want to thank the people in the Queensland party who gave me this chance and who felt that I was serving them well.
I love my state, and I've had the great opportunity, basically through this job, of meeting many people from all parts of Queensland. In fact, that extends to all parts of the nation. I would like to acknowledge the school hall program, which meant many of us got a chance to go to a lot of places that we may not have known existed before. I went to a school that had five pupils, who had not had a library and who had not had a hall. I went to very large schools. It was a wonderful experience to be there and be part of that whole process, so thank you to the party.
I also want to particularly thank the party for a special joy that I've had in this parliament, which was representing the party on two national institutions. The National Archives has an advisory council by legislation, including members of parliament. The National Archives provides the memory of our nation, collecting and preserving Australian government records that reflect our history and identity. So to David Fricker, who is the director-general, and Denver Beanland, my mate from Queensland who's the chair of the council: thank you so much for the opportunity to serve on that council. It is important, and I really think, again, it's the history of our nation.
Another special joy—I must have been standing in the right place that day—was that I also got appointed to the National Library Council. Our National Library is an absolute treasure. It's so close, and yet I know people in this place may not have got there. So please take the opportunity to visit the Library and the Archives. The Library, by its legislation, is responsible under the act for maintaining and developing a national library collection of material, including a comprehensive collection of material relating to Australia and its people. That's us. So take the opportunity to go to the Library and learn more about the wonderful services that they have. To Dr Marie-Louise Ayres, who's the current national librarian, and Dr Brett Mason, who is now the CEO of the advisory council: thank you as well for that chance to serve with you.
I want to also thank the party for the wonderful chance in the last two parliaments to serve as a shadow minister. It wasn't my goal. It was not something that I had planned to do, but it was a wonderful chance to look after two particular portfolios that mean so much to me. One was as the shadow minister for women for disability and careers—my friend Carol Brown now works in the disability and careers area—and the other one, the one that I'm doing in this parliament, is as the shadow minister for international development and the pacific. I cherish the opportunities I've had to work in this space and the people I've had the chance to meet.
There are so many advocates and NGOs and people who care about all these areas, but I want to particularly mention the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, which I've mentioned many times in speeches in this place. That group—I can see people who've been on the group nodding—encapsulates the issues of international development, the Pacific, women, disabilities and our whole focus as parliamentarians working on developing policy in this area. I really encourage parliamentarians in the next parliament to work on this cross-party committee, which is so important to our area. I couldn't leave this area without giving a little nudge to Penny and her office, who've done work in this space and provided opportunities. I'll also mention the Sustainable Development Goals. I will not go into a long rant on that. I've done that many times before, and I assure you I will continue to do it. But, if you look at what the SDGs talk about, it's what we need: we need to work together.
Mr President, I haven't got too much more. I did have a time limit, but I've noticed with interest that there's no clock moving, so that's terrifying for everybody! I'd like to acknowledge my union, the CPSU, the union that serves people who work in the public sector. I am a public servant. I have been a public servant my whole working life, just in different ways. I particularly acknowledge Bill Marklew, my good friend in Brisbane, and his team. You have been behind me, you have been my friend and you've been my support. I am a life member of that union and I will always be active. They mean a lot to me.
That leads on to my absolute support and advocacy for the public sector. That's where I worked. I see public servants doing the jobs that we require of them all the time, and I look on them with respect through the Senate estimates process, which I know we love and adore—in fact, I actually do enjoy Senate estimates. I don't believe it is a gladiatorial contest; I believe it's somewhere you exchange information. When I see the work, commitment and genuine care for our society that the public service should be doing, I want to genuinely put, again, as I did in my first speech, my absolute commitment to being part of the public sector.
I'll talk about my team—I can't name them all—from over the years. We've built up a bit of an alumni group of people who've survived working in my office. There are a few of them up there. There's Meredith and Monique, who are walking. It's fantastic. They have actually been great to me. I can't name them all, but they have shared the passion and they have shared the journey. I particularly want to mention Anne, who was with me from the start, from the Sunshine Coast. I actually was blessed by having two Merediths—one is with me here tonight and the other is the backbone of my office, my friend and someone with whom I work so closely and we couldn't do it without her. It has been a great privilege to work with her and also Claire. We know Claire from the Labor Party. When I was working in another position in this job, she helped me through the intricacies of the operations of the Senate and was there when I returned in shock after a heavy question time of taking points of order. She was always there ready to support me when I returned quite exhausted and deeply concerned about whether I'd done the right thing in this place, so thank you very much.
I'll mention my long-term commitment to having women in parliament. I want to put on the record my thanks to EMILY's List, an organisation with which I've worked with for many years. They have been strong. They have been supportive. They work to have women in parliament, which is something we hear so much about, but, more than that, they work at inclusion in parliament so that we have people who represent their community in this place. My goal is that our parliament reflects our community. Everybody who is an Australian citizen should feel as though they can serve in parliament—really whether they want to or not. They can feel as though that option is here. We are getting better on that, but I think, as a parliament, we are seeing that we need to do that.
I want to thank the wonderful people who have supported us in the whip's office. They do a great job. You and your team are exceptional. I particularly want to thank Maria, Kay and Lenny. They provide so much support to us and are always there. They always should be thanked and acknowledged. To Penny, for you and your office: it's a tough gig and the office does amazing work and is there to provide leadership and support.
I want to thank my friends, who are always there. You should always have people around you who are your friends and who will tell you the truth, when you're failing as well as when you're doing well. I can't mention you all, but I particularly want to put on record Janice Mayes, my good mate, who actually told me I could do this job. I wasn't sure at the time, but she felt that was something she could tell me, in faith, that I could do. Thank you so much, Janice. Thank you to Virginia, who is always there and just makes life easier for many people by bringing her joy into their lives.
For my first speech, my family sat up there and I had nieces and nephews who were very young. They are now adults with their own families. Thank you to my two sisters and their families. They have been so supportive. I'm not sure whether they always understood this process, but they have become committed and I always knew that they were right behind me. For an end, I just want to thank everyone with whom I've worked. It has been a deep joy, a pleasure and an honour. There's unfinished business, and I won't be going away. I wish to put that clearly on record.
However, I want to end with just one regret. When I was sworn in and I had the kids with me, they got immense pleasure out of being in this place. One of the things they enjoyed most was running over Parliament House, throwing themselves down that wonderful green space. I have to admit that I did as well! There will be many people who will never actually know that experience, because things have moved on so much in this place that we don't have that. That is a regret to me. I'm sorry; I know the world has changed, but there was something particularly special about the openness and the welcome of the Senate that I joined, the parliament that I joined. I hope we will always keep that spirit alive, if not the ability to run over the hill. Thank you very much.