Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Parliamentary Representation


7:08 pm

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

I rise on behalf of the opposition to acknowledge the departure of Senator Fifield and to make a short contribution on his valedictory. I want to start with an apology. You see, for most of the time that Senator Fifield was Manager of Government Business in the Senate—in the life of the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments—I have been Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. That means he's borne the brunt of the many attempts we have made to strike a blow for government accountability in this place. I have to confess that, on occasions, he's probably been the recipient of a serve from me.

Whether it be motions, committee references, short statements, OPDs, selection of bills, reports or amendments—but especially those suspensions of standing orders that drop at 9.28 am on a Wednesday morning—he has copped the lot. I will not say that I have never seen him flustered, but to his credit he is not one to lose his cool. He said tonight in his remarks that partisanship should have a purpose and should not be gratuitous. That has been the approach he has taken. Of course, I do hasten to add that all of those actions in the chamber were entirely justified!

Senator Fifield has come a long way from his time as an advisor to Peter Costello, famously ironing his shirts—and my ribbing about that he's always taken in very good grace. He entered this place in 2004, following the resignation of Richard Alston. In his first speech, and also in his valedictory tonight, he spoke about those in his family who identify with the Labor side of politics. He included a particular mention of an aunt and uncle who were political staffers in the Whitlam, Hawke and Keating governments and a grandfather with two decades of service to the Printing and Kindred Industries Union. Senator Fifield, it's not too late! There is a better path!

Following the defeat of the Howard government in '07, he assumed shadow executive roles from 2009, entering the full shadow ministry the following year with responsibility for disabilities, carers and the voluntary sector. He held those roles during the period that encompassed the development and enactment of the NDIS. The National Disability Insurance Scheme was a signature legislative achievement of the 43rd Parliament, and it passed with bipartisan support. Senator Fifield deserves acknowledgement for the role he played in the development of the coalition's position in this area during this defining time and for ensuring its passage through this place. In government, Senator Fifield was appointed Minister for Communications and the Arts, again following in the footsteps of Richard Alston. Thankfully, he did bring a much needed touch of diversity to the government frontbench, sporting the longest-held summer beard we've ever seen!

Senator Fifield's public service will clearly not end when he hands in his resignation from the Senate. Like the man he replaced, he moves to a position as a diplomat, beginning a new chapter as Australia's ambassador to the UN in New York. This is a hugely important role. It's not one of those postings that you imagine to be a twirl around the cocktail circuit. It is a place where serious business is conducted by some of the world's most senior diplomats. The agenda is vast, the relationships are complex, and it is a place for workhorses rather than show ponies. Perhaps Senator Fifield may think back to his days here as breezy by contrast.

Whilst it is easy to criticise the UN, it is important to remember how much we need it and how much it supports Australia's interests. Australia played a key role in the founding of the United Nations. As a substantial power but not a super power, the UN can be a hugely valuable tool in our diplomatic toolkit when we engage wisely and constructively. Key bilateral relationships are heavily influenced by how we operate in the multilateral world of the United Nations. How we work with the other 192 member states of the UN can serve or harm our national interests. So Senator Fifield will be carrying on a vital Australian legacy. He is fortunate to join a UN mission that is highly accomplished and that has served Australia well, earning us a valuable seat on the Security Council, which was critical in our response to the tragic and dreadful downing of MH17. More recently, they have earned us a seat on the Human Rights Council. As Australians, must build the future by living up to the leadership we have demonstrated in the past through our commitment to the multilateral rules based order, to the United Nations and its agencies, to the ideals, principles and values which these represent.

Senator Fifield reflected today on his career. He spoke of his time here as 'custodianship'. It is an observation unblinked by ego and respectful of our democracy, an observation which reflects well upon him. Senator Fifield, on behalf of the opposition, I thank you for your service to this Senate. I wish you and your family well and, I particularly wish you well as a representative of Australia in the world.


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