Wednesday, 25 June 2008
Thank you, Mr President—fellow South Australian and, of course, friend. Thank you also for your kind words to all of us at the dinner that you hosted for retiring senators last week. It is heart-warming to see so many friends and family in the galleries today, and I acknowledge the members of the House of Representatives. Thank you for honouring me and my colleagues with your presence.
When I first set ‘Doc’ in this chamber on November 30 1995 there was a lot less diversity than there is today. I said in my first speech that my aim was to bring about change, and I am proud of the modest role that my party and I have played in bringing that change about, in changing the parliament into what it is today, in some small part, with a relatively younger demographic and more women.
At the time of my swearing in I was a little surprised that the media went on and on about those Docs, which I wore simply for comfort and convenience. But perhaps that was the media’s way of recognising change without having to endow the slip of the girl that they thought I was with too much significance. Perhaps the media needed to change as much as the diversity of the chamber, for we do not have true democracy without true representation. The Democrats have always recognised that, and we have created history with the people we have elected to this parliament and the people we have chosen to lead us—women, young people, different cultures, different backgrounds, Indigenous, different sexualities. I said in my first speech—and yes, Mr President, I do remember it well—on being the youngest woman ever elected to a federal parliament:
It is an honour that I cherish but for no longer than it takes other young women to be chosen by an electorate that has shown it wants true representation of all sectors of our population. I look forward to the day when I look across this chamber from my seat and see such a diversity of faces—young people, old people, different ages, men and women, and the many cultures that make up our nation, including indigenous cultures—that we no longer have to strive for it. When that time comes I think we will accept that neither youth nor age, any more than being male or female, black or white, is a virtue in itself, except that it deserves to be represented in a system that claims to be representative.
Well, Mr President, almost 13 years later my record is almost broken by Senator-elect Sarah Hanson-Young from our home state of South Australia. I wish her well and hope she does not have to endure the unimaginative headlines and endless comparisons that she has complained about—I have to admit, the ‘green Natasha’ does make her sound like an alien. But I wish her well. I hope that my experiences and the changes that have taken place, and the experiences of others in this place, ensure that she has an easier ride, and for those who follow her as well. I wonder if Sarah’s entry into parliament represents a new milestone, or is it still the non-mainstream parties that are nudging at the predominantly male and middle-aged political status quo, when women’s role in public life and politics can still be determined or defined—is often defined—in terms of our age, our appearance, our marital status and, yes, even our parental status?
I acknowledge tonight all my colleagues who depart with me and I pay tribute to them, but in particular the five female senators who leave with me. They have all played a particular role in advancing the policy interests of Australian women—and I include in that, of course, the late Jeannie Ferris, who was due to retire with us at this time. I worry that the clock will turn back on some of our hard-won gains, including reproductive rights, and I urge the Senate to maintain its vigilance. I have actually been at my happiest in this place when women of the chamber have worked together in united policy interests—the cross-party camaraderie of RU486, my pregnancy counselling legislation, foreign aid funding or stem cell legislation.
It is 106 years since women obtained the right to vote and stand for parliament, and yet look at the numbers. Women comprise less than a third of the federal parliament. We have such a long way to go still. That does not compare favourably with parliaments across the world. It is still inadequate by any measure, because critical mass does make a difference. Greater or equal numbers of women make a difference to policy and ultimately lead to decision making that better reflects the needs and concerns of women in this country.
Despite the public’s view of politicians as warring or involved in gladiatorial question time debates, this chamber is sometimes a very happy place, with many instances of cooperation. I think of the joy expressed when the best kind of, say, Indigenous legislation passes this place. It is also a sad place, showing deep concern across party lines for senators in sickness and with other problems; it is also a sad place when bad legislation is passed with guillotines and other spurious strategies.
This could be a better place by having more diversity of cultures, and I include here the deaf culture. I have seen captions arrive for question time on broadcast television, as I hoped for in my first speech. It could also be a better place by the parliament being more family friendly in its hours and amenities. You may notice Mandy Dolesji, an Auslan interpreter, signing my speech tonight. This is commonplace in some parliaments across the world, and I hope before too long that it is here as well. But for tonight, at least, the parliament is a little more accessible to members of the deaf culture in our nation, who are as worthy of respect as any other culture in Australia. Many of you know of my interest in interests affecting deaf and hearing impaired Australians, hence my private member’s bill on captioning and the establishment of a captions inquiry. Thank you, Senator Coonan.
I have lived through great dramas in this chamber and in the political life of this nation, including the heart-breaking challenge of giving a condolence for September 11 victims and the debate, due to the Democrats’ insistence, about the government’s decision to deploy troops to Iraq, or indeed the dark, dark days of the Tampa, to which the Democrats responded with alacrity, including with an urgency motion, and of course steadfast opposition to the subsequent migration laws. The images of refugees in Woomera with their lips sewn together will forever haunt me.
Not the least of these dramas has been the drama of my own party, whose demise has done no-one any good. It has simply taken away a choice from the voters that they wanted maintained for 31 years. The narrative of our days here has many versions. It is not my intention to offer one tonight, as it would only lead to contention. Instead, I prefer to focus tonight on the achievements we can all be proud of. From the day when Don Chipp planned the party until today, when this last quartet of senators marks its departure having worked to the last minute to serve the public and the ideals of the party—and the four of us have been working to the last minute, as you may have noticed—we have achieved a great deal.
We have changed the political landscape for the better, transforming the Senate, as we like to think, from a house of the living dead to a genuine house of review. We have injected accountability into policy and processes. We have made elections more transparent. We have reformed the committee system for the better. For more than three decades, we have been Australia’s third-party insurance, a slogan I have often liked—and I see those clever minds at The Gruen Transfer also adopted it for one of the two advertisements that they put forward. I have to say though I liked their other slogan too: as long as Canberra has bastards, you need the Australian Democrats; let’s make bastards history. Actually I think you really need to say ‘let’s make bastards history’ in a Don Chipp voice. It reminds me of footage of Don in the aftermath of the logging of the Daintree when he said, ‘Those mindless bloody vandals.’ We did play a pivotal role in saving the Franklin as well. But we have always been straight talkers and we have often liked a bit of a spicy slogan—give a damn, keep them honest. But one of my favourite cartoons is actually of me as leader pledging to ‘keep the, er, naughty people honest’.
But our commitment to accountability and democracy is only matched by our efforts at good policy. Don Chipp got to see his small party do big things, despite the fact that some, including the media, were never really in love with the presence of a third party and, when its absence loomed, mostly gave no more profound thought to the matter than they had when the party had considerable support. They had certain cliches that rang down the years and which were applied no matter what the occasion. They claimed that the party did not know what it stood for or what it believed in, and yet people in their thousands not only voted for the Democrats but consistently, you could say relentlessly, sought us out for assistance when cracks appeared in the national facade, when they felt no pride in what the government was doing. I think of refugees in particular or threats to our liberties through the suspension of rights and the casual treatment of our environment, which we believe characterised both major parties until recently. Most Australians did know what the Democrats stood for. And then there were the accusations that we were too far to the right or too far to the left—glib accusations that saved some the trouble of thinking that a third or even a fourth party might be extremely valuable to the nation’s deliberations.
I wish remaining crossbench colleagues well, but the legislative expertise of the Democrats is a pretty tough one to follow. Among the four of us, we have 47 years of legislative expertise. I have seen 69 senators come and go in this place since I have been here. I have been most at home here when I have been debating, scrutinising or analysing laws, and I have been most infuriated when this chamber’s processes are undermined or curtailed. I have enjoyed the chance to amend laws more than a hundred times or so, but I have especially enjoyed policy formulation in the areas that I covered—genetics, constitutional change, human rights, social justice, work and family, and deafness issues. My not-so-secret passion of course has been space and science issues, ranging from the debate about the patenting of genes and gene sequences to establishing a Senate inquiry into space, regulating biotechnology, enshrining—and it only took eight years to do it—genetic privacy in law, and of course I am still trying to ensure the prohibition of genetic discrimination. The US congress did it in March after 13 years. My private member’s bill has been on the table for 10 years, so I urge the government to adopt it at some point. But it has been really fun, good, nerdy stuff.
Mr President, you know how I have relished my time on what was your committee, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade. In particular I would argue that the Democrats’ support for and advocacy of human rights, especially in places like Burma, West Papua, Tibet and Timor, is in many cases second to none. But my first committee was the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training and it is the same committee that I attended my last meeting of yesterday—and I thank the secretariat and the chair for toasted sandwiches as a tribute.
My belief in publicly funded and accessible education was the catalyst for my political involvement and I have enjoyed legislating in those areas and hopefully making a real difference, whether it was income support legislation, making income support more available to farming families and to younger people, initiating inquiries into the higher education sector, the first Senate inquiry to focus solely on student income support, or even negotiating the Backing Australia’s Ability package with the former government when the ALP decided to oppose it. However, the education sector has suffered under successive governments Whether it is the introduction of voluntary student unionism, the lack of indexation for universities grants, the meagre income support and increased fees and charges, or the blackmail over industrial relations conditions and unprecedented interference in academic autonomy, all of these changes have impacted most on those who are traditionally disadvantaged and have also undone the work of generations of people and advocates for education predicated on equal access. I will never resile from the principle that education should be publicly funded and accessible to all—and, if I stand for anything, it is for that.
Many of you in this place are friends—family friends and many dear, dear friends. On many occasions, Ian and I have been heartened and I think overwhelmed by incredible shows of goodwill, especially when Cordelia and Conrad were born. Beautiful baby gifts and flowers came from all sides of the chamber—native flowers of course from my Green colleagues. The point that I make is that many of you have been a part of many happy and sometimes more difficult personal moments in my life during my time in the Senate—as have my staff.
It has been exciting to give some people their first taste of politics as well as to benefit from the expertise—the extraordinary skills and specialist knowledge—of people who have been interested in human rights and social justice, and being able to do so by having them on my staff. Like everyone in this place, I have had many wonderful, loyal, clever, committed and extraordinary staff. I acknowledge some in the gallery today: Rebecca Smith, Richard Denniss, Jill Manning, Daele Healy and Kirsty McKenzie. There are too many to mention, but I will acknowledge my current team, of course: Dr Heidi Kneebone, Mat Tinkler, Jane Hockley, Emily Johnson, Raina Hunter, of course, and Ragnhild Duske; and volunteers Craig Bossie, Rosemary Drabsch and, of course, Bryden Spurling. Many staff have contributed to my time in this place—volunteers and interns, part time and full time.
Thank you to those who make our work possible in this place: attendants, Comcar drivers, Hansard, security, cleaners, the catering staff and the clerks—the wonderful clerks. How many hundreds of amendments have you written for me? You have helped me to prepare 24 private member’s bills, in an attempt to bring forward ideas and make them into achievable policy. I also thank the Black Rod’s office and many, many others in this place—and please forgive me should I forget anyone.
I acknowledge my family in the gallery, of course: Jenny and Greg Stott; Frank and Florence Stott; of course, my mother, Shirley Stott Despoja; Ian, my husband; my children, Conrad and Cordelia—‘hi’; my godchild Sebastian; two godparents of my children, Craig Chung and Melissa McEwen; and Lori, thank you for helping me balance this work-life collision, as it is called by Professor Barbara Pocock—another former staff member, I might add. There is no truth in the rumour that Conrad is named after ‘conservative plus radical’. That is Nick Bolkus causing rumours. But I do not think that compares to Nick Minchin’s cute nickname for my children: CO1 and CO2. In fact, the last time Conrad was here was for the opening of parliament, when he yelled out, ‘I love you, Kevin Rudd.’ But do not get too cocky, Labor Party, because he has done that too to John Howard. I like to think that he is a very loving child with a due respect for authority and high office. Cordelia, as you know, was in here this morning, inadvertently voting on the family and community services legislation.
Honourable senator interjecting—
Indeed. Of course, she did. My decision to leave—it is an empowering one—is to spend more time with my family during these crucial years. This should not be interpreted as sending a message that motherhood and politics cannot be combined. That is not my message to women. It is possible, it is necessary and we cannot afford to lose that talent pool. If you believe in working families—and, let us face it, all families work more or less, and then there are the very young and the very old who are not working—you have to support them. There is a greater role for policymakers, for government, for industry and, of course, for parliaments to play.
I think we send one of the worst messages of all in that we work in a building with 3,500 staff and we have no childcare facilities. We must implement a suite of reforms that will assist workers and their families, whether it is the right to return to work; flexible and part-time work after having a child; breastfeeding breaks; quality child care that is affordable and accessible; and paid maternity leave, of course. But I do take great heart in this coalescence of support around the model that I, on behalf of the Democrats, tabled in this place in 2002. I do hope that we will see in the next year a real commitment to and the implementation of paid maternity leave.
Finally, I would like to thank the members of the Democrats, the supporters in my party and the people who voted for the Democrats. I see many members in the gallery. I see two former presidents, Matthew Baird as well as Liz Oss-Emer, and I am sure there are others. I thank them for the opportunity to represent and, indeed, to lead my party. I will always trust the members, and that is my message to any future Democrat representatives. I thank the people of our home state, South Australia, for the privilege of serving them for almost 13 years. I leave here as the Australian Democrats’ longest ever serving senator. That too is an honour I cherish, but it is also one that I wish to see broken. But, Mr President, who can predict what the future holds? Thank you.
This formal valedictory speech is probably the most difficult speech that I have ever had to make during my time in the Senate. Even though I have given many, many speeches, probably more than some would have liked to have heard, I consider this more a valedictory for the Democrats as a whole than for me. So, even if I had four hours to speak—do not panic; I shall not attempt to—it would still be impossible to do proper justice to the incredible story, the enormous efforts and the many, many achievements of the Democrats and the thousands of people who have been part of that journey over the last 30 or so years. To try to do so in 20 or so minutes is not only daunting but, I think, almost impossible. However, I shall try my best.
As the longest serving and, quite possibly, final Democrat senator from Queensland, I do apologise in advance if my comments are too Queensland-centric. I do at the outset acknowledge the immeasurable positive contribution made by literally countless Democrat members, staff, supporters and parliamentarians from all states and territories during that period. I also acknowledge the efforts and achievements of all the other senators departing at this time. I sincerely wish them well, and I deeply and sincerely thank the many other people who contribute to making the Senate the crucial mechanism that it is for legislative consideration, public engagement and a check on what can otherwise sometimes be the unfettered power of the executive, the government of the day: the clerks, the staff of Senate committees, the attendants, the drivers, the public servants—everyone who assists us in doing our job, which is both an enormous privilege and an incredible responsibility. In a normal valedictory, I would acknowledge the contribution of others more fully. But, as I say, this is not a normal one and so I will do that in other circumstances and contexts.
I joined the Australian Democrats back in 1989, attracted, above all, by their ethos of recognising the importance of participation and the importance and value of encouraging everybody to try and contribute not just within the party but within our community and the electorate. Within 12 months, I found myself a junior member of the state executive of the party in Queensland and, on 1 July 1990, almost exactly 18 years ago, I was a part-time member of Cheryl Kernot’s staff on her first day as a Democrats senator. What was initially meant to be a temporary appointment did not turn out that way and, somehow or other, from that day 18 years ago onwards, my life has been almost completely immersed in the Senate and in the Democrats. I was 25 years old at the time. I am a little bit greyer now—partly because I dyed my hair even when I was 25 but stopped somewhere along the way!
Unlike my fellow departing Democrats senators here today, throughout that time I have been heavily involved continually not just in the parliamentary wing but also in the organisational wing—what is sometimes unkindly called a party hack. But, as Senator Minchin often rightly notes, that is an important role that perhaps deserves a higher reputation than it is sometimes given. I would say that, I guess! Since that time I have not only been engaged with the Senate almost continuously but also held one position or another on both the governing body of the Queensland Democrats and the national executive over most of those 18 years.
I have known the Democrats and the Senate, indeed, longer than I have known my wife, who I met through Democrat activity. I married her over 11 years ago, both of us unaware that less than 12 months later, in rather unanticipated circumstances—as people may recall—I shifted from Senate staffer to senator, almost literally overnight. Both she and my mother were present when I gave my first speech on 11 November 1997, and I am pleased that they are both here again now. In my first speech, I thanked Julie for her love, her patience, her support, her kindness and her forgiveness; she has had to forgive me for a fair bit more since then, I must say, and I am pleased that she is able to be here today.
I am even more pleased that there is someone here who has appeared since then, our beloved and truly delightful daughter, Lillith. I am thrilled that she is here now and blessed to have her as part of my life. As all of us here would know, our devotion to our duties as senators means that our children, where we have them, pay a price. But I can assure her that the price she has had to pay has certainly been to the benefit of the wider community, because she has provided to me extra enlightenment, a greater understanding and a capacity to open my heart that has made me a far better politician and legislator. So her loss has definitely been the public’s gain, even if they may not fully appreciate it. She was born during the 2001 federal election campaign and, virtually from her first days, I have had to live with the fact, and always will, that, even when she was five days old, during that election campaign she managed to get more publicity than I did. Some may recall a famous photo that the then leader, Senator Stott Despoja, had in that campaign, looking what I might politely call alarmed, holding a baby—that was Lillith. She managed to be either on the front page or on a page inside in that photograph for pretty much a week straight, whilst I struggled to get a single sentence reported anywhere in the paper. But we all know those frustrations.
I do want to particularly acknowledge the work of my Queensland predecessors: Senators Michael Macklin, Cheryl Kernot, John Woodley and John Cherry. Indeed, the seat I relinquish today traces directly back to Michael Macklin and the 1980 election. It is a source of great disappointment to me, and a source of some concern, that that seat is no longer a Democrats seat. It is not just that Queensland no longer has a Democrats presence in the Senate, but that we have nobody from outside the major parties representing Queensland in the Senate for the first time since 1980. That also applies in New South Wales. That is not to say that the Democrats or minor parties are always better than the major parties. But I think the loss of diversity and of that opportunity to raise different perspectives—which, at times, is not so easy for people in the major parties to raise or to give the focus that those perspectives might merit—is a real problem. In saying that, of course, it is what the people of Queensland voted for. But it is a consequence that I think people need to be conscious of in trying to make sure that some of those issues which would not otherwise be raised still get put on the agenda.
Indeed, when one looks back at the contributions of one’s predecessors, back in the nineties, the eighties and even the late seventies, one can be struck—sometimes with amazement, sometimes in quite a depressing way—with how much things sometimes remain the same. To read Democrats senators in the eighties urging attention to be given to the unacceptable gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal Australians, including children, and other Australians, and to see literally no improvement over that time is disappointing. To see the continuing calls for better human rights made over 20 years ago by my predecessor, Michael Macklin, in China, for example, and in many other areas around the world, and to see that we are still fighting those battles—the calls for disarmament, the calls the Democrats made from our first days for greater attention to be given to developing renewable energy and alternative fuel options—and to have made in some ways so little progress since that time is not as uplifting as it might otherwise be.
But it is also important to acknowledge the progress that has been made and to take credit, on behalf of the Democrats, for our role in that progress in some of those areas I have mentioned, as well as many others. We have moved forward. We have undoubtedly moved forward in regard to accountability, fairer electoral laws and transparency. At the time the Democrats started we were the sole voice in this parliament not recognising the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, and were a lone voice for a long time in the parliamentary arena. That is obviously an area where significant progress has been made but where—as always should be acknowledged—more needs to be done.
Our role in speaking out on issues that are not popular is one that is crucial to a democracy. The continuing and deliberate focus of so many Democrat senators on what are sometimes unfairly portrayed as marginal issues just because they do not fit into the dominant political narrative of the day is crucial. It is precisely when people are not seen as vital to the immediate interests of the major parties or vital to a newsworthy story for the mainstream media that they do need a voice. I am proud to note our continuing role in this. From the earliest days, we strongly spoke out about the need to fight against discrimination against gays and lesbians, for example. We continue to talk about the importance of basic human rights, of getting the balance right. We were successful in strengthening the laws protecting our environment. They certainly need to go further, but, from our role in the early days of the eighties in pioneering the first World Heritage protection legislation through to the late nineties, with significant expansion in the environmental powers at Commonwealth level, there are things that we can and should be proud of.
Above all, I think our legacy is the role we have played in the Senate itself. The very fact that the Senate is seen as such a significant chamber, such a crucial check on the government of the day, is one of the major achievements of the Democrats. It is something that all parties now need to recognise, or do recognise, and must ensure lives on. Whilst the Democrats’ time may have ended for now, the Senate’s role is more important than ever, and that is a legacy that we bequeath to all of those that come after us, particularly those that sit on the crossbenches here. I certainly wish the Greens well in their role here. Whilst they have a right to be proud at having reached the level of five senators, it is important to emphasise that the number of people on the crossbenches here in the Senate, which will be seven after 1 July, is actually at a level that is lower than it has been for more than 20 years. And that means a pretty big workload in terms of trying to provide that alternative perspective on all those committees and all those different issues. It also means that there is an extra responsibility on people in the community to make sure that those issues are put forward and heard, because it is not just up to the politicians.
To me, that has been another key part of the Democrats’ legacy—to emphasise that, however fabulous the current representation in the parliament may be, there is so much to tap into out in the wider community. To me, by far the best thing about the enormous privilege of being in the Senate is the amazing people you get to meet, not so much around here—although you’re not too bad!—but the everyday Australians you meet who just go about trying to improve their world, improve things for others, improve the environment and make a difference in all sorts of different ways. We can all learn from them much more than we do. I am not saying we ignore them—we certainly do not—but I think we need to tap in much more to that expertise and that energy that is out there in the wider community, because that is the way to make the parliament work at its absolute maximum effectiveness.
The other aspect that the Democrats have been successful in that I think needs to be acknowledged—and it has in some ways made our life more difficult—is that we have blazed a trail for other smaller parties. When the Queensland Senate team ran for the first time in 1977, there were seven groups on that Senate ballot paper. Last time around, when I was unsuccessful, there were 24. There is a lot more competition out there. That makes it a bit more difficult, but I actually think it is a good thing. More diversity, more choice, for people is good, and the opportunity for people to have their voices heard through the democratic process is important.
I want to particularly note the significant contribution of Michael Macklin, the founding member in Queensland, and Cheryl Kernot. Obviously it was not helpful for the party when she resigned, but she cannot be blamed for what happened from then on. I think a lot of people have forgotten just how effective she was as a Democrat in this chamber, just how good a communicator she was and what an impact she had on a lot of issues that still have her legacy today—the area of superannuation, just to pick one.
Apart from the issues I have already mentioned where I believe the Democrats have had a great role, I want to emphasise the area of multiculturalism and immigration, which has been probably the biggest focus of my time in this chamber. The experience I have had in working with people in the community who did not support the approach taken by the former government—broadly speaking, supported by the opposition—towards refugees and asylum seekers is one of the most inspiring that I have had. I am talking about thousands of Australians who simply wanted to express an alternative view and to convince other Australians that there was a better way, that the way that things were being done was too extreme and too harmful.
I want to particularly mention one person, named Ali Sarwari, who was recognised as a refugee here and was living in Melbourne. I met his daughter, Sakina, and his wife on one of the times I went to Nauru. I do not know why, but it never leaves me, having to hear his daughter ask why she could not see her father and hear them continually talking about the pressure for them to be sent back to Afghanistan. They were treated as being separate from Ali. Even though their father and husband was seen as a refugee, they were not seen as refugees. They were imprisoned on Nauru for over two years, along with so many other children that I met when I was there. That one girl sticks out in my mind particularly. That man had to live here knowing his family were being pressured every day to go back to the horror that he had fled and knowing that his daughter was there wondering why they could not be together. He had to leave and go to settle in New Zealand for that family to be reunited.
That was a direct consequence of the temporary protection visa legislation passed by this chamber in 1999. That to me was an example, probably the starkest example, of a policy that was deliberately designed—consciously, specifically—to cause harm to innocent people. It sure as hell did. It did not deter boat arrivals, I might say, but it sure as hell caused a lot of harm. I know it is a complex issue, asylum seekers, and that needs to be acknowledged, but I would never want to see us again passing a law that so deliberately causes harm to vulnerable people, particularly children.
Let us not forget in this chamber the many children and others we locked up behind razor wire for years. Our government, on our behalf, even took court action and fought an appeal all the way through the courts to stop people in detention from getting access to mental health treatment, despite clear psychiatric diagnoses. It is unthinkable now, but it is true. I never want to forget that, even though it is distressing, because I do not want that sort of thing to happen again. It may be in another policy area from refugees and migrants, but that sort of thing should not happen again. There has always got to be a better way than doing that.
I say that not particularly to criticise—although, obviously I have many times—the past government and the former opposition for their positions, but to emphasise that it was politically rewarded by the Australian people. The Australian people validated and accepted that. As an Australian, I think we collectively have to take responsibility. We must acknowledge that that was done, ask ourselves why, ask ourselves if there is a better way and try to stop that happening again.
I particularly remember Ali Sarwari because, even more tragically, when he did finally got freedom in New Zealand and settled with his family, he was killed in a car accident. Life is not funny. Life is a bitch sometimes and it is strange how things work out. People like that should not be forgotten.
I want to finish by acknowledging the members of the party again. More than any other party, the Democrats sought to recognise the value of enabling members to contribute on key decisions. That was sometimes mocked. It still is and probably will be for a long time to come, but it is a process now adopted by many other parties in other countries. Whilst these things always have to be done with appropriate balance, it is a simple ethos that everybody has a valuable contribution to make. All of us in this place know that we could not have got here without our party members supporting the party selflessly and loyally, along with the staff that worked for us.
As always, it is very dangerous to single people out. I want to especially acknowledge those who have been members of the party through a very tumultuous 30-year history. We had a number of upheavals over our time, not just the more recent ones from five or six years ago. Some people stuck through all of that, and they need to be acknowledged. They stuck through it not because of blind loyalty to the party but because of a belief in what the party can achieve. Because they have been around that long, they would know one of Don Chipp’s slogans, not the famous one about keeping the bastards honest, but the slogan: ‘You can change the world.’ We all can change the world; they did, in big ways, and I thank them for that.
I want to especially single out—and I know it is dangerous to do this—Fay Lawrence, who is in the gallery today, as she was in my first speech, and her partner, Bob. I think she is the ultimate loyal Democrat. She did it all because of the commitment to changing the world. I thank her for doing that and perhaps using me as a symbol of the many thousands who also played that role, large and small—and I thank them all.
I want to thank my staff as well. I have had a lot over the years—so, again, singling them out is dangerous—but I have to particularly thank Tracee McPate, who has been there from day one and is here right at the end. She was a great help. Again, as all of us in this chamber know, none of us could manage to perform our role without the skills, loyalty and support of staff. I also want to acknowledge the team that I had around me when I was leader of the party. Because of the circumstances at the time, I was not able to properly acknowledge their contribution, but they were a great team who made a great contribution not just to the party but to the parliament and the people of Australia. I acknowledge them and the team I have had since then. There have been some difficult times, as we all know, and the fact that they have stuck through that is something that I wish to pay tribute to.
I think it is time to acknowledge that the Democrats catchcry of ‘keeping the bastards honest’ was a blessing but sometimes also a curse. It is certainly well-known; it is probably the best known slogan in Australian political history in some ways. In many ways, it will always define the party, but in some ways it also unfairly confines it. We did a lot more than that. When you boil it all down, one of our greatest achievements has been to bequeath that concept to the greater body politic. To some extent, as we leave this chamber for the final time, at least in our current incarnation, that concept will live on—that desire for greater honesty, greater transparency and greater effectiveness. People getting a better deal out of our politicians and our political process is something that we, and also those of us out in the wider community, can all take on board.
One other thing that we would always emphasise is that you cannot expect politicians to deliver everything. We cannot all sit back out in the wider community and leave it to the politicians and the political parties. I am about to leave this chamber and go out into the wider community. One thing I intend to focus on more than anything else is to remind people throughout the wider community that they can make a difference. Pitch in and have your say. I know all of us across this chamber, and in all the political parties, usually do like to know what people think. The more people make their views known and the more they contribute, the more positive impact they can have on making our wonderful country an even better place.
Senator Bartlett stole my opening line, which is that this is probably one of the most difficult speeches I will have made in this place. It is the end of a 31-year long era, and I desperately wish that I was handing my seat over to the next generation of Democrats senators rather than standing here, the last of our parliamentary leaders in the Senate, turning out the proverbial lights.
To the Australian Democrats, the party executive, our founders, the Chipp family, former senators, the members and supporters, many of whom are here tonight, and the people of Victoria: thank you for the very great privilege of serving in the most important legislature in the country. The Senate fills me with pride and I will go on being its ardent advocate for a very long time.
I am enormously pleased that my family is here today. My mother, Joyce; my sister, Barbara; my partner, Peter; my brother, David, and his partner, Liz; and my niece, Beth: thank you so much for coming—it has been really important. I promise to make up for 12 years of neglect. Thank you for your support and for coming with me on this ride of a lifetime.
When I entered the Senate in 1996, I could not possibly have imagined what was in store. I did not know how important the work of committees would be, how their inquiries would so consume my time and energy, how they would so effectively expose the shortcomings in services and policy, or that they would often have great influence on government decision making.
I have been indulged by my party room, committee chairs and senators across the board in agreeing to the many references to inquiries I put up over 12 years—about 10 of which I chaired. I want to say thanks for the enormous amount of time, travelling and effort that other senators in this place have given to issues that were not necessarily high on their political agenda but certainly were on mine.
Committee inquiries have been an education no university could offer. I know a great deal more about superannuation, the electoral system, tax, the fuel sector, health economics, uranium mining, mental illness, water management, the science of climate change, the complexities of teaching kids with learning disabilities and aid programs—and they are just some. Just today the report of the sexualisation of children inquiry was tabled and, again, I thank those who joined with me in that committee. It was a very good inquiry, like so many others in this place, and it was a privilege. The Senate committee system means that horizons are expanded, and hearts and minds are changed when people here are confronted with the evidence.
Most negotiation in the Senate is done outside the chamber but on rare occasions a minister can be persuaded by the arguments and amendments agreed on the floor. It is rare, I acknowledge, but I want to pay tribute to one minister who did that most effectively here—that was Senator Robert Hill.
I think it is tragic that the public we serve judges us, and judges us harshly, by the dogfights and the sham that passes for question time—mostly in the House of Representatives, not here—when collaboration and negotiation is what the Senate is good at, particularly when neither major party has the numbers. In 1996, I could not know that I would negotiate hundreds of amendments, spend days in the chamber on a single bill and take decisions that were politically risky.
I will not forget the experience of being in the parliament during dark and defining moments in our political history like 9-11, the attack on Iraq, the threat of terrorism and the Bali bombings, the unravelling of native title, Tampa and children overboard. For all the power bestowed on us as parliamentarians, at these times, the powerlessness was profound.
I did not expect that colleagues—all from other states and almost strangers at the start—would go on to mean so much to me. I could not have anticipated the unforgettable experiences: the rudimentary earth floor birthing facilities in remote Thailand; our women-centred aid programs in distant provinces of Vietnam; a meeting with the delightful King of Jordan; and the visit in the dead of night to refugee camps in Western Sahara in the desert of Algeria, where people have lived for more than 30 years through endless dust storms and 48-degree heat on a daily basis. To see whole villages reduced to concrete rubble in Lebanon just weeks after it was attacked by Israel, to fly over offshore wind farms in Denmark, to don a headscarf and long black cloak to be driven at breakneck speed through crowded Iranian cities and to visit Timor not long after the bloodbath that followed the referendum were some of my Senate delegation experiences that will live with me for a long time.
I gained an intimate knowledge of sewage works in our Senate water inquiry. I was shocked by the high-security ward at a women’s prison in Brisbane holding women with serious mental illness. I came to understand some of the complex problems of schooling in remote Indigenous communities and saw the very best and those that were below Third World standard. I stood in the now filled-in decline at the Jabiluka would-be uranium mine and the rock cavern underneath Botany Bay that is now filled with LPG.
I thank my colleagues Senators Bartlett, Stott Despoja and Murray for a very smooth ride for the last three years and thank them and the six other Democrats senators with whom I have worked for their intelligence, hard work and commitment to the principles of the party and more—I have learned a great deal from them all. We went through some very bad times as political relationships go, and I am relieved that professionalism and goodwill has mostly healed the wounds.
Thank you to colleagues on all sides of the Senate—more than a few of you would be ideologically better placed with the Democrats; others would not. But, with a few exceptions, the more you get to know people the more you find in common.
A special thanks to the women here for their sisterhood in an environment still dominated by men. Women should be outraged that the most competent women in this place have been discarded or just overlooked because of factional deals. The collaboration over reproductive health like the history-making RU486 bill showed us what is possible, and I wish we had done more. I like working with women. Their egos do not get in the way of a good campaign so much but often parties do in my experience.
I would like to see more attention paid here to working women—the double, sometimes triple jobs they do in raising kids or looking after sons or daughters with disabilities or ageing parents while mostly doing the lower paid jobs. I wanted to be, when I came into this place, a good representative of women and their interests. I am profoundly disappointed that the dangerously repressive family planning guidelines are still intact thanks to religious zealotry and that our spending on family planning has dropped proportionally to one-sixth of what it was 12 years ago. It is disappointing that little progress has been made on violence against women and children, that more women than ever are in prison on drug convictions and that fewer will be in the Senate post 30 June.
I made a speech this week urging the government to act with more urgency on climate change. I regret that I will not be here to keep prodding them into action. I am sure it will be necessary. On current progress, and, if the point-scoring absurdity of the response to petrol costs is anything to go by, the chance of reaching agreement about Australia’s response to greenhouse, or that of the international community, before it is too late is looking very remote. For all the blokinesss in politics, it seems that neither major party has the guts to tell people that high petrol prices are here to stay and the inevitable pricing of carbon will push them even further, much less encourage alternatives.
I am very proud of the achievements of the Democrats over 31 years and of my own work in establishing, for instance, the national environment legislation, from a Senate inquiry back in about 1997 to the passage of the legislation and, with it, 500 amendments improving the bill. I negotiated two extensions of the photovoltaic rebate scheme, establishing renewable energy grants for remote off-grid communities, pastoralists and Indigenous people, and a scheme for recycling lubricating oil. Probably nobody here knows that, but I am telling you now! I won $400 million for greenhouse abatement through an inquiry into Australia’s response to greenhouse. That was more than eight years ago and the recommendations are still as relevant now as they were then.
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme was my work, so, when you go into a whitegoods shop and buy a washing machine, those stars on that washing machine are down to me. That would have been done eventually, but I can claim that was my work, as were national fuel and emissions standards and grants for conversion to alternative fuels like LPG—again, taken up, fortunately, and improved by governments more recently. But these were all measures that governments did not take up at the time and perhaps would not have taken up had we not held the balance of power.
Eventually the recommendations of the urban water and greenhouse inquiries that I initiated will be implemented. Perhaps too the recommendations on Indigenous education, education for kids with disabilities and teachers will be implemented, which were all from inquiries that the education committee worked so hard on.
The mental health inquiry I initiated generated $4 billion in much-needed new funds from state and federal governments. Thank you to my colleagues on the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs for their enormous effort and the great collaboration and agreement that was able to be reached on that committee. We made a difference. The inquiry into the Jabiluka uranium mine assisted the Mirrar people to stave off that assault on their Kakadu land.
I wish my efforts on banning cluster bombs altogether had been more successful with the new government, but at least there is a half-good treaty underway. I did my best to discourage the Howard government from joining the attack on Iraq—a war that has taken five years so far and killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly civilians, I might add. At least the Bush administration admitted that it was about oil and the Australian government admitted, finally, that it was all about the US alliance.
I am very pleased to see that the Rudd government has recently taken up the case for nuclear disarmament—another of my strong campaigns. I ask that it also look at setting up a ministry of peace and a law that would require governments to act when Australian citizens face unfair trials overseas, like David Hicks. I ask that it look at setting up an energy efficiency trading scheme, a bigger renewable energy target, a ban on new coal-fired power stations unless they can meet very tight emissions standards and a ban on junk food advertising directed at children. The government will find bills to do all of this under my name.
I want to express a big vote of thanks to my staff, my amazing staff: Jo Dower, Siobhan O’Mara, Daniel Barnes, Paul Watson, Vikki McLeod, Craig Beale, Sarah Benson—who is not here—David Collyer, Tim Wright and a dozen or so more who went before them. Thank you for putting up with me, my disorganisation, my impatience and my unreasonable demands. Your hard work, your loyalty and your intelligence got me through more than a few sticky moments, and your fingerprints are on so many of our achievements.
It is difficult to single people out. However, I give special thanks to Jene Fletcher, who is an amazing member of our staff. Only the clerks know more about the procedures of the Senate, and even that would be arguable. Jene, you have been in the Senate for longer than any Democrats senator and you have been a rock for 19 years. We will miss you, but so will the many others in this place who constantly ring you to ask your advice.
Thanks to all who work in the parliament and who treat us with respect, whether we deserve it or not. I have the greatest respect for Harry Evans, not just for his spirited defence of the Senate but for his diligence and that of his staff in making us look good. We arrive here ordinary people, for the most part, with highly variable levels of education and most of us with no experience in the parliament and yet we still get by without knowing Odgers.
I acknowledge the great patience and multiskilling of Rosemary Laing, Cleaver Elliott and their staff; the amazing responsiveness and organisational ability of our committee secretaries, despite impossible deadlines; the wonderful and important service of the Parliamentary Library; and Comcar—that great white symbol of privilege that makes us safe and comfortable on the long days and nights of travel. Our Hansard reporters are highly skilled and, my understanding is, second to none in the country. Attendants, photographers, security staff, cleaners, travel agents, gym staff, caterers and more all work to guarantee the very smooth operation of this place. I thank you, Mr President. I thank the Deputy President and the acting deputy presidents. I regret that I never made it onto the big chair up the front.
I want to also thank the architects of this parliament and the contractors who, 20 years ago, made this building. After 12 years in this place, I still revel in the architectural beauty of it, the timeless materials and colours, the attention to detail, the glimpses of courtyards, the fabulous artwork, the seamless transition between public and non-public spaces and its great success as an embodiment of democracy.
I have a lot of respect for the many journalists in the press gallery and the work that they do. Most of them have gone, I see, but never mind! There are important synergies between us: we both play a role in keeping the bastards honest. But I have to say I will not miss the endless need to pursue stories that put us in a good light or persuade them to take us seriously. I think the media could never quite accept that a party could give its members the democratic right to determine policy or its leaders or allow its senators to vote on opposite sides of the chamber. It does not quite fit the major party mould of tight discipline that so strangles honest debate and decision-making. I think our demise could have been otherwise if the graveyard stories had been balanced by the substance of our last two election platforms or our record in the parliament, but this was not to be the case.
I leave this place with great pride and many wonderful memories. I think we have upheld the principles that Don Chipp started in this party of not just keeping the bastards honest but bringing integrity, honesty and tolerance into this chamber. Thank you, Mr President, for your involvement here. Thank you to all my colleagues in this place, and goodbye.
I would like to make some remarks in response to the speeches by the three Democrats today and also some about Senator Nettle on behalf of the Australian Labor Party and the Rudd Labor government but more of a personal nature. This is a time for reflection on careers and contributions rather than a political analysis. It is fair to say that this is a momentous occasion in the life of the parliament and the Senate. The end, at least for the time being, of Democrat representation in this parliament after 27 years is something worth commenting on.
The history of the Democrats’ involvement and contribution to Australian politics will be written by others. I notice a great deal of media commentary around these issues in recent weeks and I am sure there will be lots more. It is worth noting that the Democrats contribution to the Senate and Australian politics was inextricably linked to the development of the role of the Senate; they went hand in hand. It was when the Democrats emerged as a third force in Australian politics and held the balance of power in the Senate that the role of the Senate and the role of the parliament changed.
Whatever one’s personal views about the Democrats or their positions on particular issues or the characters that have made up the party, there is no doubt that they changed the nature of Australian politics particularly in regard to the way the Senate operates. The Senate would not have developed the way it has and would not have developed a number of the features and strengths that now characterise the Senate if it were not for the emergence of the Democrats as a third force. Their capacity to operate in this place, to hold the balance of power on a number of occasions or hold it jointly with others saw the Senate find its feet, find its role and find a raison d’etre for it in Australian politics. It also took us away from the bitter debate of the 1975 constitutional crisis and allowed the Senate to find a positive role in Australian politics. I think the Democrats need to be congratulated for their role in that development and the significance of that role.
If you look at the development of the Senate committee system and the powerful role that plays in accountability and the examination of legislation, that is a very strong measure of how the system has changed. Of course, this also meant that the Democrats learned very strong skills not only as legislators but also as negotiators. For all their reputation as ‘pixies at the bottom of the garden’ after one unfortunate campaign, they were generally very hard-headed negotiators, very good at trying to find middle ground and very good at trying to progress their agenda while allowing governments of both persuasions to govern. It is worth noting that governments of both persuasions managed to govern effectively while the Democrats held the balance of power. There was no sense of instability in the governance of this country. That is not to say we did not have our moments and it is not to say that there were not the occasional fits of pique, hyperbole and condemnation from both major parties in all of that. But it is true to say that we had a period where the Senate was not in the hands of the government but we had stable government nonetheless.
It is true to say that the Australian public have come to like governments of both persuasions being held to account and checked by forces in the Senate other than those of the government. That balance of power politics—that check on government power—has become something that the Australian public generally support. All the surveys show that and, of course, the voting record in elections since 1980 indicate that the Australian public have supported, on most occasions, third parties—be they the Democrats, the Greens, Independents or minors—to play that role.
It is ironic that the Democrats losing representation at the 2004 election coincided with the then Howard government gaining control of the Senate. The demise of the Democrats saw the Liberal-National Party government gain control of the Senate and it is ironic that that control brought an end, in my view, to that government. Their inability to check themselves in the industrial relations arena in particular saw them lose government. You could mount an argument, if you were not the Leader of the Government in the Senate, that that might be a good thing and that maybe the coalition might still be in government if they had the benefit of someone holding their mad ideological crusade in check.
Well, it could be argued, I think, that the Democrats saved the former Labor government from themselves on a number of occasions. Certainly they saved the Howard government from themselves on a range of occasions as well. Anyway, as I say, the historians will debate these issues for years to come. But I did want to note that your colleagues in this place particularly respect the role of the Democrats—both the four retiring senators and those over the time of the party’s participation in the Senate—as very serious legislators and as people who have made a real contribution to getting better outcomes and better legislation.
The other thing that is worth noting is that the Democrats have done a lot for the representation of women in Australian politics, both in terms of the candidate selection over the years and in electing women as leaders on a number of occasions. That has helped change the face of politics; it is something that the major parties have come to adopt and the Democrats did provide a lead in that. That also helped to contribute to the transformation of the Senate so that it is not just made up of middle-aged grey men like me and Senator Minchin but there is some variety of gender, political attitude, experience and ability.
I would like to make a couple of remarks about the individual contributions of each of the senators. Firstly, Senator Natasha Stott Despoja: Natasha is probably the most publicly recognisable senator ever. I am sure that that is a huge benefit and a mighty curse as well. She is probably even more publicly recognisable than John Gorton, Mal Colston or Brian Harradine. When she came in, Natasha made politics interesting, vibrant and sexy. All sorts of people who took no interest in politics suddenly took an interest in politics. Natasha was obviously much more media friendly than most of us. Be it with Doc Marten boots or other media angles, she actually got to then argue serious political points by making herself more interesting and making herself available to the press. Unfortunately, I think Senator Stott Despoja after a while suffered from the sort of tall poppy syndrome that seems to apply in Australian politics. A lot of people went out of their way to try and tear her down. It is unfortunately the case that that seems to be much more prevalent as an attitude towards women in politics. We still have not overcome that particular problem. Nevertheless, Senator Stott Despoja has had a tremendous career.
I first met Natasha when I came into politics. Natasha used to put out her famous calendar of senators and I was very proud when I made the first calendar—I was then a new senator and was a younger, thinner, darker haired bloke—as the August entry. Natasha found out that I used to be in the firefighters union, so I was ‘Hot August Nights’! It is very cute. And the line was, ‘Come on, Chris, light my fire.’ One, she had a sense of humour and, two, it is a very long time since I lit anybody’s fire! But that was a sign that she could be a serious political player and also enjoy politics and make it interesting. That has been one of Natasha’s great strengths. She has a great record of achievement in this place. She is known as passionate and committed, as a serious politician who has made a huge mark and as a very decent person.
I acknowledge that her decision to go in a different direction must have been difficult, but I know how committed she is to her children—although clearly Ian is proof that love is blind. Talk about the Yin and the Yang! His professing of love for Maggie Thatcher I thought was just the last straw! But it is sad to see Natasha leave this place. We will be poorer for her loss. But I also know that she has a lot more to contribute to public life. Getting the work-family balance is difficult, but I am sure that Natasha will continue to make a contribution. It would be a great loss to Australian public life if she did not and I wish Natasha, Ian and the kids all the best.
I have grown fond of Andrew Bartlett. He arrived as a Goth and animal liberationist with DLP roots, and I thought, ‘What the hell do you make of this bloke?’ Then, in his first speech, on the 11th of the 11th—you know, he was always one for making a mark—he spoke of his admiration for Brian Harradine. So you have the Goth, the animal liberationist with DLP roots in his first speech talking about his admiration for Brian Harradine! And, you know, no-one could quite figure him out. I must say that 12 years or so later, or whatever it is, I still have not figured him out. But he has developed into a very, very good senator.
There is no-one more conscientious about his parliamentary work. He spoke often—some would say too often! You could say that he was not always the most inspiring speaker, but he was persistent, consistent and principled and earned the respect of his colleagues as a result. I know he used to be very well prepared with legislation. I did committee stages with him and he is a very serious, well-regarded parliamentarian. As he indicated in his speech tonight, he has an enormous commitment to Indigenous affairs, to immigration and to a range of other matters. I know his commitment in those areas and to those causes when there was not much interest in or public support for them was difficult, and that does him proud.
I was struck when I was in the chamber earlier in the week when he gave a speech on immigration. Again, it was just off a few notes and it struck me how balanced, insightful and positive the speech was. I learnt something from it and I thought it was a sign of the experience that he has and the development and the knowledge that he has gained—and the fact that he was still working right up to the last days. I know that he had a very difficult personal time at one stage in his career, but the way he fought back from that is a great credit to him. He has made a serious contribution to this place. Again, he is someone with a lot more to contribute, I am sure, and we wish him and also his family well.
Senator Lyn Allison is also leaving this place, and I know how committed Lyn is to politics and public affairs. I have always been impressed by her quiet dignity. When all around are screaming and shouting, Lyn sticks to the issues and plays the ball, not the woman. She takes a keen interest in public policy outcomes. Whether it be committee work or work in the parliament, her real interest and commitment to policy and policy outcomes comes through. She is always focused on the underprivileged, those who do not enjoy the same opportunities as others in life, and always in the key areas such as education, the environment, health and the rights of women. Lyn has made a huge contribution to those issues in the parliament and in the broader public debate.
She referred to collaboration over women’s health. I think there was an interesting development in the parliament: the cross-party contribution of bolshie women who came into this place. I know my partner was very pleased with the development. I am not sure some of the blokes in this place were but generally it was, again, a sign of a development in the Senate, an evolution in the Senate, another interesting development in the way the Senate can and may operate.
Lyn, you have been a tremendous advocate for the Democrats. You have been a strong advocate for them in really difficult times. I think the grace with which you have led the Democrats, when you knew things were coming to a bad end—at least temporarily, if not long term—does you great credit. Your contribution has been appreciated and you hold the respect of Labor senators. We wish you well.
Mr President, I hate to keep banging on but, given that Senator Kerry Nettle snuck in at lunchtime to try to avoid people talking about her, I take this opportunity in the last couple of minutes allocated to me to say something about her contribution. I know that doing it in the same speech about the Democrats will cause major offence to either or both parties but—
Honourable senators interjecting—
No—there is a rapprochement, I am pleased to hear! Like Senator Bartlett, Senator Nettle made a huge impression when she first arrived because she brought something fresh to the Senate. We had this young, green activist in the place, full of enthusiasm, vitality and energy. It made some of us feel very old, and we thought, ‘Jeez, it’s good to have someone around who is that energised.’ It also made the place more interesting, because we had someone who clearly was a community activist who brought those skills and attitudes to the Senate and, in continuing that trend, it made it a more interesting and diverse place. Senator Nettle made a contribution to the development of the Senate, its practice and its culture.
Her tremendous commitment to social justice issues has been evident in all she has done, as has her obvious commitment to the environment. As Minister for Immigration and Citizenship for the last six months I became aware of her tremendous interest in immigration and issues associated with it, as well as her knowledge and commitment in those areas. Again, like Senator Bartlett, she showed a real commitment to people in this policy area, when it was not popular and quite difficult. I think acting as a voice for people who were not being heard is a tremendous testament to her personal commitment and conviction.
I think people can come into politics too young. I have seen many people come in too young and burn out quickly, so I am not sure, Senator, that going out now is not a blessing in disguise. You will probably be a much more balanced person in years to come than you would if you had stayed here. Of course, you had the option of coming back, but I know you are off to East Timor to make a contribution there. I know you are the sort of person who will always be active, always be making a contribution. And the good thing about not being here is that you might actually have a life! As a younger person, it is probably important you take that opportunity. Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy it. I know that whatever you do you will be committed to it, and I know you will make a difference to whatever you do. You have made a difference here. You also have a real reputation—I certainly believe you have—being very genuine and nice. ‘Nice’ is not really a strong word, but I have always found you to be a very nice person. We will miss the contribution you make but, as I say, I am sure you will make a contribution in other ways and I wish you all the best.
I echo the fact that, as many have said, not only do we farewell four Democrat senators but, quite remarkably and historically, we farewell the Australian Democrats itself as a political and Senate entity. Therefore, we are engaged right here and now in what will be seen by history as an extraordinary occasion.
I have been very actively and indeed involved full time in Liberal Party politics since 1977, when the Democrats first emerged as a political force, so they have been a permanent feature throughout my active political life. So the party’s demise, certainly as a federal entity, has great poignancy for me and of course for most Liberals. We all recall that the party’s genesis lay in a renegade Liberal, none other than Don Chipp, who was a great Liberal. We were all desperately sad to see him leave our ranks and start another party—and what a party it has turned out to be!
The other element of poignancy for me is that the great strength of the Democrats has been, quite unusually, in my own state of South Australia. The smallest mainland state has produced much of the engine room of the Australian Democrats. It has produced four of the nine Democrat leaders, those being some of their most significant and high-profile leaders in John Coulter, Janine Haines, Natasha Stott Despoja and Meg Lees, all of whom, because of their domicile, have been good friends of mine over the course of the Democrats’ existence. To add to that, the only remaining Democrat after 30 June in Australia will be Senator Sandra Kanck in the South Australian Legislative Council, so it is an unusual phenomenon of South Australia.
It is interesting that one of the things I managed to achieve in Australian politics was keeping Janine Haines out of the House of Representatives because I had responsibility for managing the Liberal campaign in Kingston in the election of 1990. I was genuinely very fearful of Janine capturing a seat in the House of Representatives which, from my perspective and the perspective of my party, would have been a dreadful thing to have occurred. I remember having a real fight with Andrew Peacock, our then leader, in which I tried to convince him that we should direct preferences to the Labor Party to keep Janine out. He insisted that we could not do that and that we always put Labor last, therefore we had to direct preferences to Janine. The problem with that was we were running third in the ballot 10 days out and our preferences were going to elect her to the seat. In my role as the state director, I then ran the most negative campaign that has ever been run against the Democrats anywhere.
The thing about the Democrats—and I do not mean this as a criticism—is that they have since gone below the radar. While Liberal and Labor have been attacking each other throughout the last 30 years, the Democrats have quietly fed off our preferences and stayed below the radar. That campaign in Kingston proved to me that, if you put the spotlight right on the Democrats and some of their more odd policies, you can take them down. I know you do not like to hear that but that is what happened in that campaign. I think we took 10 points off Janine’s polling in a week to ensure that she came third and the Labor Party retained the seat. It is tragic what has since happened to Janine. I think she was one of the most extraordinary politicians Australia has produced and a very capable woman. That is why, from our very selfish point of view, we needed to keep her out of the House of Representatives.
What has happened to the Democrats reminds us all that no party at all can take its continued existence for granted. It teaches us that it is especially difficult for smaller parties to survive, and I therefore think the Democrats really should take a lot of credit for and be proud of the fact that they have survived for well over 30 years and certainly lasted much longer than others from the passing parade of parties like One Nation, the liberal movement, and Australia First. The DLP, I suspect, did not last as long as that. That is not much consolation, but in the tough game of politics with the difficulty of survival that is something quite extraordinary about the Democrats.
Proportional representation as a system of election has a balance sheet with positives and negatives. I think one of the downsides of proportional representation for election to the Senate is that it puts minor parties in a position of enormous influence in one of the most powerful upper houses in the world. Parties that might achieve only eight or 10 per cent of the vote can dictate to a nation the fate and direction of that nation. But I think it can be said of the Democrats, frankly, that they have been, if you assess their record over the years, very responsible in the exercise of that great influence. I truly hope that those who succeed the Democrats will learn from that and be equally responsible in the exercise of the enormous influence which proportional representation and the method of election to the Senate hands to parties that represent small minorities of the Australian people.
Much has been made tonight of the slogan which the Democrats made famous: ‘Keep the bastards honest.’ I think only ‘It’s time’ ranks with that slogan in the annals of Australian political history. Unfortunately, on our side of politics we have never come up with anything as good as either of those two slogans.
‘Incentivation’ was pretty good. It will be remembered, but it was probably not quite as effective. It is fair to say that slogan has encapsulated the approach that the Democrats have brought to their role in the Senate, and I commend them on that. They have generally taken their balance of power role very seriously and have practised to great effect one of the great arts of politics: the art of compromise, which is required of us all and much more so of us senators than our colleagues in the House of Representatives, who do not know what it means.
As a former coalition cabinet minister, I want to place on record my thanks to at least some of the Democrats—with the notable exception of a couple who are here tonight—for their ultimate support for our modified new tax system including the goods and services tax. I acknowledge the enormous damage that issue did to the Democrats as a political force. But I think history will prove that those who did vote for the GST did absolutely the right thing. And as I said before, I think it is hard to imagine Australia not having that new tax system in place. I guess you can all blame Brian Harradine for the fact that the weights were put on the Democrats to decide the fate of that legislation. I think I was acting government leader in the Senate on the day that Brian Harradine finally decided he could not support our legislation, which put the fear of God into us thinking, ‘My God. The Democrats are going to decide the fate of this legislation.’ I openly acknowledge how very difficult that was for you as a party but I believe history will judge that those who voted for it did absolutely the right thing.
Tonight, as Senator Evans said, we acknowledge the service of what I think will be the last four Democrat senators ever to serve in this chamber: Lyn Allison, Andrew Bartlett, Natasha Stott Despoja and Andrew Murray. I was very pleased to have the opportunity yesterday to pay tribute to the service of Andrew Murray. Tonight, as a South Australian, I particularly want to pay tribute to the service of Natasha Stott Despoja, who has been a state colleague and a Senate colleague of mine for 12½ years of the 15 years that I have been in this place. It is a great privilege for both of us to represent the great state of South Australia. Natasha is the wife of my very good friend Ian Smith and the mother of his two children, CO1 and CO2, who are an absolute delight.
Natasha has been a remarkably and extraordinarily successful politician, one who has marked her career with a number of great milestones that may never be beaten—including her being the youngest woman to enter federal parliament, the youngest person ever elected to the Senate and the youngest person ever elected as leader of a federal parliamentary party. She has a great capacity for diligence and hard work in the Senate. We in the major parties do actually understand that those in the small parties have to do a lot more work than us, who have so many other colleagues around us. As Senator Evans properly said, she has a public profile to match that level of work ethic. As I said about Andrew Murray, Natasha has been an assiduous legislator—again, someone denied the opportunity to serve in the executive but someone who has taken her legislative role so seriously.
The other thing about Natasha that I think we can all learn from is the way in which she has established herself as one of the most persuasive and influential communicators that we have seen. That capacity to influence young people has always struck me. I felt it firsthand when I did a debate at an Adelaide high school with Natasha some years ago on a subject dear to my heart, which is that, as many of you know, I strongly believe that it is immoral to force people to vote and that people should have the right to choose whether or not to vote. I do detect in Natasha a little inconsistency in this. I respect her championing of civil liberties, but for some reason she does not think that citizens of this country should have the right to choose whether or not to vote. So we were invited to argue the two sides of this case. I was staggered by the way in which she absolutely creamed me in that debate by persuading these young people that indeed they should be forced to vote. I felt shamed by my incapacity to establish in their own minds that that was indeed quite contrary to any notion of civil liberties in this country.
About Natasha I could not agree more with her husband, Ian Smith, when he wrote of her in the Advertiser yesterday: ‘If only she had Maggie Thatcher’s politics.’ It is one of the great tragedies that all that talent has gone to waste on all that left-wing agenda! But, seriously, one of the great questions I think for political aficionados to ponder in the future will be whether in fact Natasha could have been re-elected in our state of South Australia had she actually stood at the last election. That was a subject that was considered at the time. I suspect on balance that she probably would have won, from my analysis of South Australian voting, but she then would have faced the ghastly prospect of being the only Australian Democrat in this place for the next six years. So I have no doubt whatsoever that she made the right decision. I do wish her, her husband and her family all the very best for the future.
Can I also congratulate Senators Allison and Bartlett on their very significant contributions to this Senate and on their achievements as leaders of their party. On behalf of coalition senators, I endorse the remarks that Senator Evans properly made, and I extend my commiserations on the fact that both Andrew Bartlett and Lyn Allison were actually defeated—Andrew Murray and Natasha of course having elected not to run; the others were defeated. I am not quite sure but I think both of you have handed your seats to the Labor Party, which is most regrettable and very unfair of you.
Senator Allison, it should be noted, is the third-longest serving Leader of the Australian Democrats, after those two great figures in Australian politics, Don Chipp and Cheryl Kernot. It is a fact that Senator Allison’s 3½ years of leadership did coincide with the three years in which the coalition had a bare one-seat majority on a good day in this place—and, believe me, as their leader, I could not always be sure, because of our great and proud tradition of allowing people to cross the floor. We made it through, but of course that reality deprived the Australian Democrats of their historic role as the centre of attention in this place. It deprived them of the influence in the balance of power position they had. It was a very regrettable reality for Senator Allison, inheriting the leadership at that time, when, by dint of the outcome of the 2001 and 2004 Senate elections, the Democrats had essentially no influence in this chamber. I do not think that diminished Senator Allison’s great passion and great conviction, and I regard her as a real conviction politician. While we disagree on just about everything, I do want to record, Senator Allison, my acknowledgement of that sense of conviction and passion that you have brought to this place.
Again, I would endorse what Senator Evans said about Senator Andrew Bartlett. We were all touched by the emotion again that Senator Bartlett brought to bear tonight, and the difficulties that he raised with the issue of asylum seekers and their treatment. I know many of you might think that we Liberals are heartless bastards. But these are the issues you wrestle with in government, knowing that the decisions you make and the decisions you have to make in government have enormous personal and individual consequences, and none of them are easy. I think Senator Bartlett tonight brought that home. I am not about to retract anything we did in government, but you do bring home, Senator Bartlett, the great difficulty that executive governments always face in making decisions which they genuinely believe to be in the best interests of the nation and its future, balanced against what we all know to be often the personal hardships that some of those decisions can mean.
I hope I do not embarrass him by noting that Senator Bartlett did achieve some notoriety a few years ago after his little altercation with our dear departed friend and colleague Jeannie Ferris. That incident certainly attested to the fact that the adage that all publicity is good publicity is not necessarily true. But I did want to take this opportunity tonight to say to Senator Bartlett on the eve of his departure from this place that, in the best Christian tradition—and most of us on this side really are quite strong Christians—all is forgiven. I genuinely mean that. I know that was a very difficult time for you. I did feel for you at that time. I want to genuinely place on record that we forgive you and wish you all the very best for your future and for your future with your family. I know that both Lyn and Andrew will be extremely active in Australian politics and add to the great vibrancy that this polity does demonstrate as much as any in the world.
It is an historic week in Australian politics. A significant force in this great parliament of ours, the Australian Democrats, expires on 30 June and, as I said, I suspect will not be revived. We may have a like party emerge in the future, but not this party, so that does mean our four friends and colleagues on the cross benches are leaving us. On behalf of the coalition, I express my commiserations to the Democrats on their demise, but I congratulate our four colleagues on the Democrat benches on their great contribution to the Australian Senate and wish them well in their return to real life.
I conclude by again endorsing Senator Evans’s generous and proper remarks with respect to Senator Kerry Nettle. Again, I always feel sorry for those defeated at elections. It is unusual to have a Greens senator defeated in an election in which we certainly thought the Greens would prosper at the expense of the Democrats. While those on our side regard most Greens as somewhat left-wing and ideological, I think that Senator Nettle has brought great seriousness of purpose and a sense of conviction to this chamber and has argued her case with great passion, seriousness and sense of purpose. I am married to a Kerry, so I always feel very fond of Kerrys—although mine is even more right-wing than I; she is very different to Senator Kerry Nettle. Again I express my commiserations on behalf of all coalition senators on your loss. I wish you well and, if you wish to return here, I hope that your dreams come true.
I begin by saying that I do not quite see things the same way as Senator Minchin does. We have had some delightful contributions here, and I want to follow on from those. He said, amongst other things, that the Democrats have had no influence in this place in the last four years. Let me say to each and every one of them: I disagree. I think you have been a most powerful force in this place for compassion, for humanity, for the planetary environment, for decency, for openness and for honesty in such quantities as every parliament and every debating chamber that influences the passage of nations and humanity needs.
For me, it is one of the great conundrums of the universe that power goes to those who most easily climb up the ladder and can tread on the fingers and faces of other people wanting to get there, and yet we need most of all in politics—never more so than now—compassionate human beings who can see beyond themselves into the future and to the needs of the coming generations, who can draw from the best of our antecedents and who can work selflessly for the planet. I have always gained great inspiration from the Democrats, from the first meeting I went to, when Don Chipp came to Launceston in 1976 or 1977, to that magical moment when he came down the Franklin River in 1982. He was as enthralled by the river as he found himself revolted by the muesli that was dished up at breakfast by his Wilderness Society guides on the river. But he came back here.
Former Senator Colin Mason and colleagues brought into this place the first World Heritage protection legislation, and that was the model taken up by the incoming Hawke government which led to the Franklin effectively being saved. You cannot divorce the campaigns outside parliaments from the politics and from the law, and next Tuesday night we will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the High Court decision which empowered the Hawke government to stop the dam and to protect the wild rivers. That decision, which came from the intellect, the commitment and the legislative innovation of the Democrats in this place, was a source of prosperity and great joy for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who go to the west coast of Tasmania.
We made a few efforts to have the Greens and the Democrats get together at various times. These did not succeed, and yet my view is that we are sibling parties and that we share a great complementarity of viewpoints about the need for a different form of politics, a much more compassionate politics that yet needs strength to go with it. I will never be able to see myself as being divorced from the impact, the inspiration and the encouragement to be involved that those 29 Democrat senators have had on many other Australians besides me in the last 30 years.
After Don Chipp, I think of people like former senator Vicki Bourne. She did prodigious work for Tibet, for legislation to have mining companies overseas held to the same laws as mining corporations here in Australia and for human rights. Of course, Janine Haines may have got, according to one figure I heard here today, only 13 per cent in the lower house vote, but she was the first female leader of a political party in this place and she was a wonderful voice not just for politics but in particular for women in politics right across Australia, wherever we might sit on the political spectrum. My great friend Norm Sanders, who is in Hawaii tonight visiting his daughter, is a Democrat who came out of the Tasmanian parliament and who resigned over the mistreatment of blockaders back in 1982. His departure from politics led to the open door through which I came into politics, and I learnt enormously from the resilience, the wit, the good humour and the enormous humanity of Norm Sanders, who was a senator in this place.
Amongst the achievements of the Democrats beyond the World Heritage legislation are the introduction of an Ozone Protection Bill back in 1988; the first Senate inquiry into greenhouse gas emissions in—wait for it—1989; the opposition to the Australia Card, which they led; the support for compulsory superannuation; the outlawing of tobacco advertising; the register of political donations; being the first political party to formally apologise to the Indigenous people of this country for their stolen generations; and so much in developing the democracy of this Senate and its committee system.
Let me, for a moment, dwell on that. Senator Minchin said, ‘Woe is us because of proportional representation that allows small groups to wield improper power.’ But, no, it does not. The Democrats were, as Senator Minchin said, very responsible in their use of the balance of power, and the Greens intend to be the same. We are entering a Senate in which all entities in this place will be in the balance of power. The Democrats knew that well, they used that power well and they advanced the interests of Australia as a result.
Senator Lyn Allison will, amongst other things, be remembered by me—and I want to commit that the Greens will continue her work—for getting rid of the horror of cluster bombs. She has just said it is a half-good treaty. We want to make it a 100 per cent treaty, and it is her work that this place will build upon in moving towards that outcome. She also said that she regrets she never made it to the big chair in the front. Well, if the Greens’ policy of having an independent chair in this place ever comes to be, hers would be one of the first doors I would be knocking on because of her experience and her fair mindedness. She would have been an excellent President of the Senate.
Senator Andrew Murray spoke very passionately last night about the 500,000 children who experienced institutionalisation or, otherwise, deprivation of the family home circumstance that we all would hope to see every child have. His contribution to this place is something, again, that I will not forget and will be wanting to build upon in the years ahead because there is very much unfinished business there. He has spoken about that passionately a couple of times this week.
Senator Bartlett says he dyed his hair, but he is greyer now and he has stopped doing it along the way. Of course, he has a much more eminent grey topknot than do I. Your sorrow at what happened on Nauru—and you have expressed that a number of times here—and your dogged defence of people who were so cruelly locked up either on Nauru or behind barbed wire, including the children, contributed greatly to the rise of Australian passion against that and the release of numberless people who might be there right now were it not for your work. You went to Nauru, you spoke for those people, you came back to this country and you inspired us all to see that that was ended, and thank goodness this government has done that. It should never happen again.
Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, you spoke about diversity and you have been a remarkable advocate for diversity in our community. You have spoken about that again tonight. I agree with Senator Minchin: you have been an inspiration also in so many areas for Australians, for example in the field of privacy, a very difficult one to tackle in this day, where we have been led to believe that everything we do must be watched just for our own security. You have worked hard for the better representation of women in all walks of life, not just in parliaments. I note that you said that there are fewer males and fewer middle-aged people in the Senate than when you came here. I think that means that I might not qualify on at least one of those scores—it is true! You have been an inspiration, doubtlessly. I have run into that all around the country. You are an inspiration to younger women in particular to take their rightful place, to be in politics, to transform politics and to get better outcomes for the nation.
All of you have been a power for the good in this place, as have the Democrats over the last 30 years. All parties come and go—I think you said that, Senator Murray. That will include the Greens, the Labor Party and the coalition parties. But I doubt if, looking back on history, any of those parties when seen as a complete capsule will be able to say their contribution was more humane, was more consistently good on a rating of bad to good or was more selfless than the Democrats over the last 30 years. They have done this nation and therefore the world a power of good. You can be justly proud of the contribution the Australian Democrats made to this place and to this nation. I salute that. I wish each of you great happiness and great further accomplishments, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart and on behalf of my colleagues for your wonderful contribution.
It is very sad to say goodbye to so many mates. I think valedictories are a great opportunity for Australia and certainly for us to remind ourselves of the extent of our work in this place and the backgrounds that we come from. I think it is absolutely fantastic that so many people from so many different backgrounds have contributed in so many different ways. I think it is a bit of a reminder about the nature of our work—that it is not always in this place. People in their valedictories have talked about their travels and their work on committees, which is a very useful reminder to us of the contribution that people make in this place.
Senator Nettle came to this place pretty much at the same time I did. As a Territorian, I came a little bit earlier. When she first came here, Bob Brown was sitting at the front and—I say this with great respect to Senator Brown—he held everybody to ransom in one way or another. He was able always to ensure that we were very focused on the issues he had in front of him, and when the second Greens voice arrived we were absolutely terrified that this might somehow lead to a collapse of everything we knew. But that was not the case. Kerry amazed us all in being able, seemingly within a couple of weeks, to stand on her feet. In committees she was able to articulate very complicated issues of law and articulate the Greens’ view on a whole range of issues. I thought it was so very impressive. Of course, she went from strength to strength. Wherever you were in the Senate, if there was a committee or a piece of legislation around, Kerry was there, well in front of most of those who were part of the 2001 intake. She has made an absolutely fantastic contribution to this place. I have spent some time on committee work with Kerry. Whilst from the outside you might assume that because we are on different sides of the political divide we would not have anything in common, I certainly enjoyed Kerry’s company. I acknowledge the absolutely fantastic contribution she has made to this place and I am sure she will go on to make other contributions in other paths.
It is, I suppose, quite unique that we stand in his place and acknowledge a contribution that an entire party has made. The winds of politics have it that the Australian Democrats will be leaving this place at this time. I have been assured, certainly by some of the valedictories from the Democrats, that that is not to say they will not return in the future. The Democrats have made a very significant contribution to Australian politics, particularly in that they have brought to it some choice and diversity. I do not think anyone would doubt that one reason we are such a great and rich nation is the diversity and richness of our communities and our people. If we have a parliament that is reflective of that then it is genuinely a representative parliament. I do know that the Democrats have brought that to this place.
The Democrats have been recognised and acknowledged for their great catchcry ‘keep the bastards honest’. It resonated well before I came to this place, but that could be a catchcry associated with any of their activities in this place. The fact that they have been the longest-serving minority party in this place means we will all struggle with an explanation—although I know a lot of pundits will have the exact answer—as to why a political party of such strength and importance has gone. Since I have been here they have played a pivotal role, not necessarily as the balance of power on all issues but certainly as a considerable influence on the way legislation has gone and on the way committee hearings have gone. Their contribution, particularly in the policy areas of environment, equal opportunity, education and government honesty and transparency, will never be forgotten. I know that they leave a genuine and long-lasting legacy in those areas.
They have often led by example. Certainly by having women as leaders of their party they have walked the talk in that area. They have always levered their vote to great effect and, certainly in my experience, they have been fairly honest in doing that. Of course, sometimes doing the right thing is very costly in this place. The Democrats may not have recognised quite how well they were doing the right thing. But hindsight is always very handy, and certainly I think we will all look back and thank the Democrats because the taxation system in Australia today is better for the GST.
One of the reasons the Democrats have been so successful is not so much because of the party but because of the sum of the parts. Any of you who have spent much time in this place would know that the Democrats are in fact a gaggle of individuals rather than a collective party. They have certainly behaved like that and their philosophy is like that. I think the strength of the Democrats has been the sum of the parts.
So much has been said about Natasha Stott Despoja and the particular role that she has brought to this place. One thing that has not been mentioned significantly is that Natasha has become such a wonderful role model for young women across Australia. I can remember coming in when I first arrived in parliament and bringing my sons and daughter here, expecting them to be very enamoured of the important people here. They met John Howard, and I thought that would be very exciting and that they would want to quiz me on that. But my daughter was not particularly enamoured of Mr Howard. In fact, she wanted to know all about Natasha and what she was wearing. When I went home in the break, Sarah was always badgering me about those things. My eldest son was also very inquiring. He said, ‘Jeez, that Natasha is pretty hot, Dad.’ I said, ‘Yes, that’s a reasonable observation.’ I think he felt she was a bit out of place—that someone so young and so vibrant was a bit out of place in the Senate. That is probably a reasonable commentary on how many Australians see this place, and it is great to see that we had a representative of a demographic that is not often represented in parliament. I think that has been a particularly important role for her.
We spent time in many places on committees and I can say that Natasha, like most of the Democrats, can be characterised as a very hard worker. We have had a lot of great times together and a lot of laughs. As a fisherman, I particularly remember in New Zealand being surprised when, in the middle of nowhere it seemed, she managed to produce a magnificent cake with a model fisherman on it. She is a very resourceful individual, and those who know Natasha know her as an absolutely delightful young Australian.
Do not be mistaken; Natasha is all business. In our time on committees, Natasha was a hard worker. A lot of people who are getting cross-examined by her think: ‘This is a lovely young lady. She is asking nice questions. She is so pleasant.’ But I have seen a few of them make the mistake of thinking that she may be not listening or is perhaps not paying attention, and they have paid the penalty. As a minister I do not think I got too many questions from Natasha, but I certainly did not look forward to them. One of the characteristics of anybody on the government front bench taking a question from Natasha is that there are no flippant responses or flippant remarks—because you would certainly be made to pay for them if you thought you could get away with them.
I been very lucky to have shared some time with her wonderful young family. There have been a number of nicknames, but I know that Conrad will answer to ‘Conan’ in later years. We have been really good mates for a long time. And I know the wonderful young Cordelia will be a very welcome addition to that family.
I want to talk about the contribution that Natasha has made to this place and about her legacy. While much of the legislation that she has supported did not get up at the time, we have always seen it as containing the seeds, the genesis, of significant changes in public opinion and in the opinion of this place. Many of the changes that we have seen have come in the areas that Natasha has championed. I think that we will see her legacy coming up continually in the future. She mentioned maternity leave. As we eventually pass legislation in this place that deals with that very problematic issue, I hope that we all reflect on the role that she played.
Andrew is a very interesting character, and I mean that in the very best way. When I came to this place one of my first committees was the legal and constitutional affairs committee, and I spend a lot of time with Andrew. This was right in the heat of the refugees and ‘children overboard’ times. They were very difficult times and being thrown into that process was a very difficult challenge for me. I could always rely on Andrew at least to help me when I asked: ‘What is actually happening now? Who is that bloke? What are we doing now?’ He was always kind enough to share his great experience in process with me, and I will be forever grateful.
Again, he is somebody who has a great deal of interest in a number of key areas. He focused on those areas that were his passions. Certainly in the area of refugees and human rights generally, he was always someone who had a great deal of knowledge. Whenever I had to negotiate issues about legislation, if Andrew said that that was what they were going to do, he was a man of his word. He was always very easy to deal with. He had the odd knack of coming up to me, though, and saying, ‘I’m not really sure where I’m going to go on this, Nigel, so I’ll be listening to what you say.’ That put me under a little bit of pressure. I had to think very carefully about how to ‘Andrew-ise’ or ‘Queensland-ise’ the speech and think about what particular interest he had. He was very serious. If you did not convince him, the Democrats would not be voting for it. He was very persuasive in that way.
Andrew is a very passionate individual. For a short period I certainly enjoyed some late nights with Andrew—one particularly fateful one, and I should take some responsibility for that, mate. But Andrew actually managed to make some changes with regard to that particular event. I wish I had been able to do the same. I am still a heavy drinker and I should be trying to get that in control.
I know that Andrew is somebody who is going to continue to make a great contribution to public life. I suspect he will still be involved in those areas that he is passionate about at the moment. Certainly the areas of human rights and Indigenous affairs are areas where we need people like him to continue to make that contribution in public life.
Lyn is another wonderful individual and a very different individual from the other Democrats. As I said, I think that is where they get their great strength from. We spent much time on committees together, and I have to say she is an absolutely delightful lady. It has been a real insight for me. She is somebody with very different views in politics. We spent some time on a uranium inquiry and we travelled throughout South Australia. Most of the time was spent cross-examining people who were saying, ‘It’s going to be all right; trust me.’ I have spent some time in the uranium industry and I know the industry fairly well, and I think we surprised each other by a whole suite of exchanges of views. There were some things that I had not been aware of. Lyn had looked very forensically into these issues in the past. As a consequence of those conversations, I knew better about what sorts of questions to ask and the sorts of issues that we really needed to tease out. Spending time with people who have a different point of view is a very valuable thing, and we should all learn a little from that.
Lyn has been characterised as an extremely hard worker. I remember Lyn chairing the mental health inquiry, a very significant inquiry of this parliament, which I think had a great impact on the government of the day. As a consequence of the tabling of that report there were some meetings through COAG, a whole suite of decisions were made and a decision was made fundamentally across Australia to put a great deal of money towards this challenge. It is never enough and it never seems to be spent in exactly the right way, but I think it was a fantastic start and that will be a fantastic legacy for both Lyn and the Democrats.
I think all the senators who are leaving today have made an absolutely great contribution to this place, to the wider community and to Australian life. I wish luck to them all and their families in their future endeavours.
It is the end of a remarkable three decades, with the Democrats leaving this chamber, but there is no discounting their remarkable work—amazing, hard and tireless work—which I have only seen in the last few years but which has been done over those three decades. I do not think there is any political party that has not been impacted by the Democrats. I know that I most likely would not be standing here if I had not come into contact with the founder of the Democrats, Don Chipp, back before the 2004 election.
To Senator Lyn Allison, Senator Andrew Murray, Senator Andrew Bartlett and Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, this place will not be the same without you folks. That goes without saying. We wish you all the very best in your next endeavours, and we wish you well. As I said, I do not think there is any discounting the work that the Democrats have done over the last three decades. Very briefly turning to Senator Nettle, who is no longer in the chamber, I wish her all the very best in her next endeavours as well.
I want to begin by thanking all those senators who made very kind remarks about me in my valedictory yesterday. I had the opportunity to say some warm and good farewell words to those members of the National Party and Liberal Party who are leaving this chamber, but there are four senators I still need to address. The first is Senator Nettle. I think Senator Nettle has made a very considerable contribution for her party. She is one of the better debaters of this chamber. She is able to speak clearly, in a principled and articulate manner, with great focus, when dealing with legislation. She also understands that you do not have to be rude to be passionate. In fact, she is of a gentle and determined demeanour. I think she will be missed by her party. She has certainly made a very significant contribution to this chamber.
Senator Webber, from my own state of Western Australia, is a clear example of how the Senate allows people to grow. Senator Webber has become a very able contributor and a very strong participant in the chamber and in committees. She has earned my respect over time. I have enjoyed her company. I have certainly noticed her laughter, including in aeroplanes. I do not know anything about your successor, but I think you are a loss to your party in Western Australia. A kiss on the cheek to you.
Senator George Campbell is a naughty, naughty boy! He is actually a very good fellow. It has not gone unnoticed that he has won the affection and, indeed, the respect of many political opponents from the coalition. That is because, as a strong unionist, as a strong supporter of the manufacturing sector, and as a person with a very considerable trade union history, his consistency, diligence and application in expressing his opinions on behalf of those he supported and backed was very effective. I am quite an admirer of George Campbell. I think he has done a good job for his party and he too will be missed. I will not give him a kiss on the cheek, but I will miss him.
Senator Linda Kirk, from South Australia, is a seriously clever and able woman. She too is a great loss to the Labor Party. Again, I do not know the quality or nature of her replacement, but she is a woman whose professional training and background, and the way in which she was working in the Senate, would have enabled her to make a bigger and bigger contribution as time went on. I got to know her well. She has been a very able senator with a very good heart and a very sharp mind. If I were the Labor Party, I would not have deselected her. She will be missed and I say goodbye to her.
To my own colleagues, who have spoken tonight, it is a historic moment. Your last words will be recorded by the extraordinary service that we are given by Hansard. They provide a great service to us all. Your last handshake will be with the Senate transport team. Ian will probably be here tonight rather than Michael, and they will give you the smile and service they gave you every day. You will get the wonderful, warm service from Comcar both here and in your home state, as I have in my home state. Your last sense of the Senate will indeed be of Comcar, as they help you from your car. Then of course on Monday, the very efficient parliamentary services CPU will usher you out with a smile and a wave, and a big pair of scissors to cut off your entitlements! In my own state, I must say that Chris Pelzer and his team have been just terrific.
I will briefly talk about our South Australian senator first: Senator Stott Despoja. In Adelaide, I have a good luck talisman called Peter Davies, who helped me get elected. I am sure Senator Stott Despoja has a good luck talisman there. Of all the Democrat senators I have known since I have been here—the wonderful Meg Lees; the terrific Vicki Bourne; the amazing John Cherry; the good, kindly and spiritual John Woodley; Aden Ridgeway, with all his complexity and talent; Brian Greig from my own home state; and even Cheryl Kernot—I, and the other three Democrats who are still here, think that Natasha will probably be the only one who will really stay on the public stage. Since the day she did up her laces on her boots, the media have been fascinated with her. I think they will continue to be fascinated with her. Her sheer, extraordinary talents will ensure that she will march the public stage again, and I hope she does. I hope she will return to public life in a considerable way, once she has enjoyed her two children and a bit of relaxation, because she has a lot to offer Australia.
I suspect the other three of us will be less noted on the public stage, but Senator Bartlett has an extraordinary capacity for consistent, compassionate hard work, which I hope he uses to good effect. Like my great friend Lyn Allison, if I emailed late on a Saturday night or on a Sunday morning with particular material I wanted to get to him, bang would come back the reply. He was on that computer day in, day out and his diligence and application in this chamber is well known. He can be somewhat lugubrious, can Andrew. His speeches often read better than they are delivered, if I may say so. But he has got an amazing wit. He can be very, very funny. I think he has a great deal to offer Australia and I hope, leaving this place, will see many opportunities open for him.
Lyn Allison, I know, with her energy, commitment, diligence and character will continue to make a contribution. I am not sure in what areas. She too is an amazingly hardworking, consistent and very compassionate individual—underrated, I might say, by the media; underrated in terms of her contribution as a leader. We have done extraordinary work over this period in which she has been leader but, regrettably, the media were not interested in serious people doing substantial work and her efforts did not get the recognition they deserved. I have enjoyed my time with my colleagues and I want to record a special note of appreciation.
Like you and many others here in the chamber, I have had the pleasure and the privilege of listening to the valedictory speeches of all the 14 retiring senators. It struck me that there are some themes running through those features, and I wanted to capture it tonight in what I call The Spell of the Senate.
They wanted the call, and they sought it
They debated the issues with flair;
Gag and guillotine—they fought it
They spent many hours in their chair;
They wanted the power and they got it
And leave—reputations intact
Yet somehow, life’s not what they thought it
And the cards in the Senate are stacked.
They came to make change (….. a good reason)
They felt like exiles at first
They grappled with process first session
And then were the worst of the worst!
It gripped them like some kind of sinning
It twists them from foes into friends;
It seems it’s been thus since beginning
And surely will be to the end.
They sat through the long winter hours
Enduring the thund’rous debate;
And witnessed when sunset clause powers
Brought righteousness, albeit late;
They shared in the depths of great sorrow
Where grief marked the nation’s soul
And gathered in proud celebration
To acknowledge our First Nations’ role.
This place where struggles seem nameless
And debates run to God knows where
Theirs are lives not erring or aimless,
but enriched by the time spent here.
Tho’ the Democrats drift into twilight
after thirty years for the brave
Their futures uncertain and shaken
Have they’ve hurled their youth into the grave?
Let’s pay tribute to all our colleagues
Who move to horizons clear,
And leave this a strong institution
the better for their presence here.
So, comrades—do not go gently!
As night surely follows each day
Your work will endure long beyond you
And your quiet achievements hold sway.
Goodbye and God bless.
I wish to draw this debate to a close tonight by acknowledging the enormous efforts of all of the senators who are retiring. I had the opportunity last night to speak after Senator Murray had made his valedictory speech. Even more fortunately, I had the opportunity to express my personal observations about the contributions that have been made by each of the retiring senators at a dinner that we had in the President’s dining room last week for them. I am not going to go over what I said before, partly because I cannot remember what I said that night!
Thank you, Senator Webber. But I do want you to know how difficult it is to encapsulate in a debate that lasts for just over two hours the enormous contribution that has been made, particularly by the five senators that we are talking about tonight. I have been in this place for 16 years, and for almost all of that time the Democrats had the balance of power. The Democrats were the people you had to convince to vote with you. As I said last night, I have formed close friendships particularly with Senator Murray but also with Senator Stott Despoja. I knew Senator Stott Despoja’s husband, Ian, before I knew her, back in the days when he was press secretary for the then Leader of the Opposition in South Australia. We used to meet regularly on Friday mornings. If you had told me when I first met Natasha that she and Ian would finish up as husband and wife, I would have been very surprised. But I am not surprised in the long run because they are two wonderful people who see a lot in each other that goes beyond politics and their personal beliefs. I certainly wish them well as they raise their young family with some time to themselves.
We often talk about the need in this place for child care and all of those other facilities that help make it possible for working women in particular to do their job. I have a firm personal view that there is nothing like having a mum at home looking after the children—even though dads have to do it as well. I think that is a special bond. I know in the case of my own three children that when they rush home from school they come in the driveway yelling out, ‘Mum! Mum! Mum!’ You know well the joy that that gives as part of the parenthood process. I am sure that Ian and Natasha will enjoy that.
To Senator Allison and Senator Murray, who are both here, and to Senator Bartlett, Senator Stott Despoja and Senator Nettle, as I said, I managed to speak about each of you at the dinner last week, but I want on behalf of the Senate to wish you all well.