Senate debates

Tuesday, 31 August 2021


Siewert, Senator Rachel

7:45 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to make some brief comments in relation to Senator Rachel Siewert. This is her final week in the chamber, and, although I want to actually disagree with so many of the comments that were made last week after her valedictory speech, I'm actually speaking from a different perspective—that of the class of 2005. The year 2005 was a great year. We had a lot of senators elected at that time, but, unfortunately, of those, the only ones still remaining in the chamber are Senator Glenn Sterle and me, with Rachel leaving this week. We did adopt a couple of stragglers, like Senator Carol Brown and Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells, and the reason we embraced them so warmly was that I had introduced a system whereby we would collect money from the class of 2005 to add to the coffers of the Senate staff Christmas party. So, when we were all talking about all the great things that Rachel has done since she has been in this place, let's get down to tin tacks, to what we all come back down to, and that is: money! We are going to lose Rachel's contributions—even though there were times when I really did have to chase her, and I think her office at times got sick of me ringing and saying, 'Come on, Rach!' But, sincerely, I just want to put on the record that she was able to come in and serve this place with a distinction that I think has been noted across the chamber with respect for Rachel's contribution.

I remember the first inquiry where I travelled with Rachel. We went to Central Australia. It was the petrol-sniffing inquiry with the Community Affairs References Committee, and that was an eye-opener for me, because I hadn't been to Central Australia and I certainly hadn't had experience of First Nations communities to the same extent as Rachel Siewert obviously had. So I found her to be a good educator. And the thing that I have found with my work with her over many years—through community affairs, mostly—has been her compassion and her strength of respect for the witnesses and the people who come before us. We did actually endure some really tough inquiries during that time. Some of them were on life issues on which Rachel and I are polar opposites—most of the time, I might add. But, unlike others who are on that committee, I can truly say that Rachel actually showed dignity and respect for people who had a different view to her. I think when I first met her, when we had our induction class for new senators, it was: 'Who is this little pocket rocket?' And I have to say that she really grew to warrant that nickname from me. Sometimes I'd actually refer to her as a terrier, but it was always with fond regard. To go back to the sort of committee work that we did: that translated into estimates, and I have to put on the record here tonight that we worked so well together in community affairs, particularly when I was the shadow assistant minister for aged care, and the way that she would allow me to take the running on the issues around aged care and around dementia did not go unnoticed. She has the same passion to see the changes as I have.

I know that she's spoken about her sadness at leaving this place when she hasn't achieved as much as she would have liked to in a whole range of areas, including climate change, but I think also, like me, she would have a heavy heart to be leaving knowing that there's still so much to be done in the aged-care sector—so much reform; more investment—as well as in disability services.

On behalf of what's left of the class of 2005, I want to wish Rachel all the very best for the new chapter in her life. She's going to get the opportunity to spend time with her family and to do some surfing and the like. As with everyone who serves in this place, it's our families and our partners and friends who allow us to be here and do the job we were elected to do. So, again, all the very best, Rachel, to you and your family, and I wish you every success in your future endeavours. I have no doubt, and I wouldn't mind betting, that you'll be back in front of a committee sometime in the future, giving evidence and certainly lobbying. (Time expired)


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