Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 June 2008


1:40 pm

Photo of Kerry NettleKerry Nettle (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to say thank you to the people of New South Wales for giving me what has been an incredible opportunity over the last six years to represent them here in this parliament. I have really enjoyed my time here. The thing that I have enjoyed the most is the opportunity to help individuals who have a particular passion for something and to assist them in getting their voice heard or assist them with the problem which they are trying to resolve. Some of those problems have been resolved and some of those are yet to be resolved. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience.

I would like to thank my Greens colleagues and also others who have been part of inspiring me and the work that I do here. I do not just want to thank my Greens colleagues here in the Senate, but also Greens colleagues such as Michael Organ and others in parliaments right across this country and around the world for their green spirit and their green inspiration.

To the Greens members, I say a tremendous thank you for the hard work you have done to ensure that I and others represent the Greens in parliaments across this country. I want to say a few words about my incredibly dedicated staff for the work they have put in; it has been way beyond the call of duty. I acknowledge the journey we have all been on together, the highs and the lows. It has been a fantastic journey and I thank all of them for that.

I also want to thank my family and friends for the support they have always given me and continue to give me. I acknowledge the times that I have not been able to be at family gatherings or the times I have been there, completely exhausted. I also want to acknowledge the family and friends of my staff and my colleagues, because they too have those experiences where their loved ones cannot be at an event or are working hard because they need to be here doing the work that we all do.

I want to thank and pay my respects to the Ngunnawal people because it is their land that we gather on for these sessions of parliament. Finally, they, like so many Indigenous Australians, received an apology to the stolen generation earlier this year. I want to acknowledge the Cadigal people from the Eora nation; they are the people who are the traditional owners of Sydney, the land where I live and have done so much work.

I have been really fortunate to meet an incredible number of inspirational Indigenous women. I want to acknowledge them because they continue to inspire me—from people like Yvonne Margarula, who is a senior traditional owner of the Mirrar people on the land where the Jabiluka uranium mine was proposed, all the way through to people I have met more recently through my parliamentary work. They are incredibly inspiring women and they continue to enthuse me in the work that I do.

Lots of people have inspired me: people who have written to me, people I met occasionally and people who have sent messages of support. I have had the enormous privilege of meeting so many wonderful asylum seekers in detention centres around this country. I have been fortunate enough to see many of them now out of detention, trying to rebuild their lives and trying to get on with their lives. Many of them suffered so much as a result of their detention.

I had the great joy of going to Christmas Island and meeting some West Papuans who, at that time, were very nervous about their future. It is wonderful to see them now integrating into Australian society and enjoying being part of our culture, where they can stand up and defend the people of West Papua and their right to self-determination.

I had the great joy of travelling to Israel and Palestine, and meeting many people who work so hard for peace in that really important part of the world, and I will say some more words about that later on. I also want to thank the public schoolteachers who give me inspiration in the work that they do and are a part of making this country the great country that it is.

I come from a party which is about vision and optimism and is full of new ideas for the future and the challenges that we face. I will talk some more about that later. Some of the other things that we also stand for are very old ideas—principles such as justice. The Greens stand up for justice, and that is why we stood up for Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks and the inhumane treatment that they were subjected to. That is why we have stood up for refugees. It is why we have stood up for so many people—the Palestinian community, West Papuans and people all around the world—because we hold that principle of justice so dear in our hearts. We have got a long way to go in ensuring that justice plays a fundamental part in our society.

We have seen an incredible onslaught of laws about terrorism since September 11 and, if we want to hold our heads high and say that we are a country that respects civil liberties, then we have got a lot of work to do to get laws like sedition off our law books, to ensure that people are not detained without trial and not questioned incommunicado by ASIO for a week. There is a long way to go in ensuring that we can hold our heads high and say that we are a country where we defend our civil liberties.

The other area I have worked quite a lot on in my time here has been the treatment of refugees. Before I entered this parliament the MV Tampa came over our horizon and Greens leader Bob Brown stood up and said what so many Australians were thinking, which was: ‘We want to treat asylum seekers humanely and compassionately.’ We have seen an incredible surge of community support for this fairness, this sense of needing to help people who come from persecution, come across the seas and need our protection. We have seen that change because of Rural Australians for Refugees and all the groups in the community who have worked hard. Their voices have been heard in this parliament, and for me that has been a tremendous example of the way in which community activists, who are having conversations in their workplaces, can effect change that finally makes its way into the parliament. We have seen some changes in laws but, again, we have got a long way to go.

I was the first member of parliament who raised the case of Cornelia Rau; then we had Vivian Solon. We have had more and more instances of people’s lives being ruined as a result of the tragedy of mandatory detention that still exists in this country. Until we get rid of a system which says that you lock people up and then you ask questions, we are going to have more Cornelia Raus, we are going to have more Vivian Solons. There is more work that needs to be done. We have seen changes in that arena but we have got some way to go to be able to stand up proudly and say: ‘Not only are we a welcoming country but our laws recognise that in how we treat asylum seekers.’ There is much work still to be done in that arena.

Of course, we have the issue of climate refugees. We have got Nicholas Stern and others predicting that by 2050 there are going to be hundreds of millions of people displaced as a result of climate change. We are yet to have a system in this country for dealing with the next big wave of refugees, which will be those climate refugees.

I am wearing a scarf today which is made by a women’s collective in Bayt Sahur, which is a little village near Bethlehem in Palestine. I had the opportunity to go and visit them. They are one group of people who need and deserve justice. I believe that we in the parliament have an incredible responsibility to stand up for justice for people who do not otherwise have their voices heard. Earlier this year in the parliament, we had the government and the opposition moving a motion in relation to the 60th anniversary of Israel but we had no mention about what that experience has meant for the Palestinians. If we want to constructively contribute towards peace and addressing the big conflicts that drive so much of the tension in our world, then we need to play a constructive role rather than being so keen to ensure that Israelis understand that our government supports them. We need to stand up for things like UN Security Council resolutions, which say we should not, every day, have more settlements, roadblocks and checkpoints being built on the land of the Palestinian people. Let’s stand up for things like that—UN Security Council resolutions. I think this is an area where we have got a long way to go in ensuring again that we can hold up our heads proudly and say: ‘Justice is important to us.’ We want a just peace in the Middle East and we recognise the flow-on consequences that it is going to have for the international community.

Another issue that I want to talk briefly about is how we treat same-sex couples in this country. The rest of the world is moving on and recognising that we should not be discriminating against people on the basis of whom they love. I am pleased to see that apparently once we have had an inquiry—again—into this matter we may be heading in this direction, but again we have got a long way to go. We are seeing more states in the US recognising gay marriage. We are going to recognise it here in Australia before too long. The only things holding us back are those little pockets of homophobia that you find in our parliaments. We have got to be able to move on and accept that you cannot legislate against people loving each other. It does not work; it is not going to happen that way. It is one of those arenas where we are going to see change. I am disappointed that I am not going to be here to see that change, but we are going to see it. It is about acknowledging the contribution that everybody makes to our society and the respect with which everybody needs to be treated.

One of the other things that I have enjoyed being involved with in this parliament is working with people right across the political spectrum in standing up for women’s reproductive rights. We have had some great wins here in the parliament in improving the access that women in Australia have to reproductive rights. We have got some way to go in ensuring that we extend that access to other women around the world. There are developing countries in our region where up to 30 per cent of the hospital beds can be filled with women who are trying to recover after having a botched or unsafe abortion. That is an incredible public health issue, and we need to ensure that our aid money is assisting those women who are dying in hospital beds in countries like Cambodia and others in our region—countries where abortion is legal but our aid money does not even tell those people how they can get access to those services. We need to ensure that our aid money is effective. We need to ensure that women around the world have the same reproductive rights as women in Australia have. We have got a long way to go in ensuring that we do that, and I have enjoyed working with people from across the political spectrum to achieve that. As far as I know, we are not there yet and we have got some way to go.

I want to talk briefly about public education. I come from a family of public educators. It is our public schools that have made this country great. We need to see a massive injection of funds into our public schools so that they can really prosper and so that every kid can get the best quality education—an education that they deserve—that this country can provide them. That needs to happen in our public school system. That is where people can get an education, regardless of their parents’ ability to pay. It needs to be the government’s No. 1 priority. You cannot have an education revolution unless you put money into our public education system. That is something I desperately want to see, because it is what has made our country great. We need to make sure that it is not diminished by taking that funding away. We have had massive underfunding of public schools; we need to see that injection of funding into our public schools.

I wanted to talk about the importance of public education and public health. We are still spending $3.5 billion every year subsidising some people’s private health insurance rather than putting that money into our public health system. These are fundamental issues of justice. It is about ensuring that we run the country properly and that people can access the public health and public education systems that they need. I wanted to talk about these issues today because I think they are issues that we do not talk about enough. The importance of public education; the importance of public health; the importance of justice for Palestinians, refugees and same-sex couples; and the importance of women’s reproductive rights are issues that we need to talk about more in our parliament.

They are also issues about which I think that the attitudes reflected in this parliament are extraordinarily out of step with the attitudes that exist in the community. Now, we are going to see that change occur, because the change that happens in the community eventually makes it way in here. But there is a real disconnect between some of the homophobic attitudes in parliament and the attitudes of the people in the community who say, ‘We want gay marriage to be recognised.’ There is a similar disconnect between some of the attitudes in parliament and the attitudes of people in the community—including large numbers of Liberal voters in marginal seats—who say, ‘The federal government should be spending more money on public education.’ There is a real disconnect on some of these issues between the attitudes in the community and the attitudes in the parliament.

Whilst I have focused on some of the issues where I think there is a long way to go, I am actually feeling positive about the good hands that the Senate is going to be left in. There are going to be more Greens in here from 1 July, and they are going to be part of the balance of power here in the Senate. The greatest challenge that our planet faces right now is global warming. Here in the Senate we are fortunate to have the expertise of the remaining and the new Greens senators, who will be able to contribute to that challenge that global warming and climate change presents us with. In Germany, we saw the Greens driving the change from an economy that was reliant on coal to one that is now one of the greatest exporters of renewable energy technology.

I really appeal to the government to seize this opportunity. You have a wealth of experience here from the Greens in this parliament and the greens around the world to assist in that process. This country and our planet will be better off if we recognise the urgency of the challenge and we take the community solutions that are already there, inject a bit of political will and work to look after this planet. I really urge our government, and Minister Wong, who has just entered the chamber, to use the expertise that exists amongst the Greens senators and the greens around the world to ensure that we too can transform our economy from one that is reliant on coal to one which is exporting renewable energy technology. It is urgent; it is an emergency. We are seeing the Artic iceshelf melting, which just reinforces for us how crucial it is that we take action now and inject that political goodwill into the solutions that are out there. We have been talking about climate change for decades. Now what we need is the political will to do something about it.

I am optimistic about leaving the Senate in the hands of such capable senators from the Greens, a party which will continue and expand after I am gone. It has been a wonderful experience. I said in my first speech that social change does not happen in chambers like this; social change happens in the hearts and minds of people. It foments in workplaces and on the streets, and sometimes it makes it way in here. But I am going to go back out onto the streets now and I am going to feel confident that, with more Greens voices in here, our voice is going to be heard and we are going to see that social change occur.

Photo of Andrew MurrayAndrew Murray (WA, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brown, you have 2½ minutes.

1:57 pm

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

If I had 2½ years, I could not say well enough what I think about the senator who has just spoken. Through you, Mr Acting Deputy President: Kerry Nettle, our parliament’s loss is the Australian community’s gain. You are a magnificent Australian citizen with a lot more to give not just to this country but to the whole world. You came here and, in your first speech, apologised to the Indigenous people for the loss that they had suffered to make us all prosper in the way that we have. Just before you are due to leave, we have seen the Prime Minister deliver a speech of apology to the very same people. Your vision for Australia is optimistic; your vision for the world is positive. Your commitment to women in the world and dispossessed groups has been second to none in this parliament. You have brought a young and wonderful intelligence into this place. You have shown great courage. I remember you standing up in the other chamber when President Bush was speaking to represent a strong voice in Australia, which now has majority support.

You have been campaigning with groups who have been in the minority in this country, and you have seen the progress of those people to the forefront, particularly on social justice and environmental issues in this nation. I thank those who have supported you, and I am buoyed by the thought that you are now going to have much more time for them and be much closer to them. They deserve it, and so do you. I know that we are going to see a lot more of Greens Senator Kerry Nettle in her new role and her new freedom working for this nation. All I can say is: thank you for being such a wonderful friend. Thank you for being such a fine intellect. Thank you for being such an honourable person. Thank you for being such a great advocate for many people who otherwise would not have had a voice in this representative parliament. You are a splendid human being.