Senate debates

Thursday, 26 June 2008


5:30 pm

Photo of Ruth WebberRuth Webber (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am not sure how I feel about interrupting that interesting contribution by Senator Chapman—but that is not for me to comment on. When I first came into this place and made my first speech, I made it very clear that my belief was that the position I hold—until midnight, 30 June—belonged to the Western Australian branch of the Australian Labor Party. Not only does it belong to the Western Australian branch of the Australian Labor Party; it also belongs to each and every person who voted for Labor. That is still my view. This is not about me; it is about the number of seats that we win in Western Australia.

When presented with the choice of good news and bad news, I am someone who often takes the bad news first on the basis that things can only get better. So, in making this, my final contribution, I will start with the hard things first, knowing that it will get easier. The hard things, of course, are always to thank those who are special to you. I will start with the people who have always been there—my parents. We have been waiting for them to join us here. To my mother and to my father, thank you for your unconditional support throughout all of this and, in fact, throughout my life. To my father, I thank you particularly. This will surprise many people, because they usually see mum and me gossiping around the place, and they do not necessarily see dad and me together. He said something to me a very long time ago, and I do not think either of us realised its significance at the time. When I was still in school, he took me aside and said: ‘I just want you to remember, you can do anything you want to. You can be anything you want to be.’ Well, believe it or not, that time, Freddy, I listened—and look where we have ended up! So thank you very much.

The last 18 months have been an interesting journey for me, and coming to the end of this part of my working life has had its stresses and strains. However, it is much easier to cope with those stresses and strains when you have someone in your life that you can love—so, Warren, thank you.

I need to thank the people who have worked with me through what has been an interesting six years—probably more interesting for them than for me from time to time, because not only have they put up with the job but they have put up with me as well. Sue has been there right from the beginning and is still here. I do not know why she agreed to work with me, because she worked with me in party office. She is obviously a slow learner! But she is finally retiring from her services to the labour movement. Chris Dunn worked with me for a long time, until he decided to take his family to Christmas Island, which I think is an extreme way of escaping work in an electorate office in Woodvale. So, thank you to Sue and Chris and also to other members of the team—in particular, Karen, who has really been a constituent backstop; and Lyn, because without her being prepared to look after the office at home we would not be in the position that we are in now.

Believe it or not, there is a saying about whether or not you make many friends in politics. I think you do, although the test will be how long you keep them after you leave this place. I also think you make some unexpected friends along the way. Before I officially started as a senator, a group of us came to parliament together and were rounded up to go to what we termed ‘Labor senator school’. This is where we were educated in the refined arts of this place from a Labor point of view by former Senator Ray and Senator Faulkner. We were an unlikely group of people who, on the whole, had not met one another before. We went through our induction and then we had forced socialisation afterwards. That was an interesting experience. We all got to know a bit more about one another, but I got to know two of those people particularly well—Gavin and Claire. It is amazing how, out of a shared experience, you can form a very deep friendship. I thank you both.

Last but not least—unless I think of someone else, because this is not exactly a prepared speech—I want to thank and acknowledge my predecessor in this role, Jim McKiernan. Unlike many people who come into this place, I had a very good relationship with Jim when I took over. I still have a very good relationship with him; he has been very supportive. I would also, therefore, like to wish my successor all the best. Being elected to the Senate is an incredible opportunity. The Senate is a special place, and I do not think any of us fully realise that until we get here. As I said to others earlier—I think it was last week; there have been a few functions in the last couple of weeks—being elected to this place, from my point of view, is the real deal. This is the grown-up politics. This is where you impact on people’s lives, and there is no second chance. It is the one level of politics that absolutely has to be taken seriously every minute of the day. For those who are lucky enough to be selected or elected to be here, I want them to bear that in mind; and I particularly want my government to bear that in mind.

I also need to thank everyone who works in this place. While those of us who occupy the benches tend to be the public face of this chamber, that reflects but one role of this place. No individual is irreplaceable but each and every role in this place is. No senator would survive without any of you. So, rather than list all of you, I want to say to the staff: none of us could be what we are without each and every one of you fulfilling your roles. You help make the whole, and the whole is a very important institution in Australian democracy.

I was asked the other day what I thought of the role of a senator, and I said that I think it is the most amazing job you can have; but, after all, it is just a job. It is a very special job and it should be treasured, but it is just a job. But I cannot think of another job that actually allows you to meet and work with some of the best and brightest minds in the country, which is what I did when I was involved in the stem cell debate. No other job would have given me that opportunity.

No other job, whilst giving me such opportunities, would allow me to travel to rural and remote Australia, particularly Western Australia, and look at the confronting challenges of the delivery of mental health services, child sexual abuse and petrol sniffing. No other job, on top of those two things, would allow me to spend six years of my life inquiring into every piece of legislation that starts with ‘Tax Laws Amendment Bill’. That is quite something! And no other job would give me the opportunity to travel and to learn, and along the way try and teach my good friend Glenn Sterle how to speak French. That is something only the Senate can give you.

Photo of Steve HutchinsSteve Hutchins (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Hutchins interjecting

Photo of Ruth WebberRuth Webber (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Perhaps his French is better, Senator Hutchins, after my tutorage! But this job is a very special job. It is a job where the public only really sees what happens in this particular room. I do not actually think they ever see what makes it special and what makes its unique contribution to Australian democracy. I was thinking of that today when Senator Brandis passed me a note. Some of the work that we did on the Senate economics committee is really an example of what this place does well. I remember many a hearing where Senator Brandis, Senator Andrew Murray and I were in attendance. All three of us would come to the hearing with an open mind, and it was the evidence of those before us that guided us all into making good, objective public policy. That is what this place is about. That is the true work of this place, not the role-playing that goes on in this particular room of this place.

Having said all that, when you get up to make a final speech, you can spend a lot of time casting your mind to the past and what may or may not have happened. Or you can talk about the future. So I have decided to spend a bit of time focusing on the future. I am very proud of the fact that, although I am leaving this place, I am leaving with a Labor government in place—and a strong Labor government. That makes leaving just that little bit easier; in fact, it makes it pretty easy on the whole. But I think that that Labor government has some significant challenges that it needs to address. I am absolutely confident that in Kevin Rudd we have a Prime Minister who will address those challenges, because he is concerned about the state of the nation he leaves for the next generation, not just for the next three years.

Of course, it would come as no surprise to those who know me well that one of those challenges that I want the Rudd Labor government to have front and centre is the delivery of mental health services. Now that we are busy reforming federalism, ending the blame game and working together, please in mental health can we have a well-resourced plan—not three plans, one plan? We need one plan that is well resourced by all levels of government, that is supported by all levels of government and that has coordinated care at its centre. If we do not do that, we fail our community. So, please, can we do that?

One of the other concerns that I have had for a while, and it has again come out of the work I have done in Senate committees, particularly through the estimates process—and this will come as no surprise, given some recent comments—is the impact of what I consider to be very lazy public policy: the imposition across the board of an efficiency dividend, on every government agency. I think it was probably a good idea at the time, in that it helped focus the minds of those who were in charge of government agencies, but I think the role for that has long since gone. I think the role for that has long since gone for two reasons. Firstly, I think those of us who are elected to this place, particularly those who are elected to the executive, should actually accept the responsibility of making the hard decisions and not delegate that. They should actually accept the responsibility of casting government expenditure to mirror government priorities—and that means making some hard decisions and taking expenditure from things that do not mirror government priorities. I think to do anything else is lazy and is letting our community down.

I also think it is lazy because it does not actually offer the rewards that it should for government agencies that perform well. Where is the incentive, if you are a government agency and you are going to be given the same cuts, the same efficiency dividend, whether you meet the government objectives effectively or not? When you are all going to be treated in the same way there is no incentive to become more efficient, because the government is actually going to set the maximum as well as the effective minimum. A long time ago, in my previous life, I worked for a member of this place: former Senator Peter Walsh, who was a renowned Labor finance minister. Whilst I cannot vouch for his views on the efficiency dividend, there is a bit of me that says this is not the kind of public policy he would like. He would have been prepared to take all of the hard decisions, no matter what the political or personal cost. So I see this as a challenge for our new Labor government.

One of the other challenges that I think we face as a government is the development of the emissions trading scheme. I think that is going to be one of the biggest pieces of public policy and economic reform that this country has seen for quite some time. It is a huge challenge; it is a complex issue. But I am of the view—and it is probably going to upset quite a few—that, if we want effective change, if we have decided as a community, as a government, that the way we are going to deliver change is through an emissions trading scheme, then the best way to do that is to introduce the purest possible model, because no model will work if it is introduced in a compromised way. It is my view that we have to have the purest possible model and then use the money that the government raises through the auctioning of permits to develop a compensation package. That way we can look after the needs of those who most need it in our community whilst ensuring that all of us play our role in meeting the challenges of emissions trading. After all, all of us know—or most of us who have studied any of these things know—that the most effective way to change people’s behaviour and to change the market is through a price signal. You are only going to get the real price signal if you have a pure model. If you have a pure model you will probably also find that a lot of the current debates we have around renewable energy targets and around other issues actually become redundant. We will create an effective renewable energy market by actually introducing a pure emissions trading scheme. But that is a debate I am sure all of you who are staying here will get to dwell on for many a long hour.

Another thing that has concerned me for a while about the direction of policy debate, both within my party and within politics, is that it seems to stay as a fairly static thing. We seem to hold on to treasured views about particular policy. I think the time for that has gone. I am not saying that we should discard everything but I think that, with a new government, a new role for everyone and a mood for change in our community, it is time to put your principles at the forefront but not to hold policy as a static thing. The needs of our community change and so our policies and ideas to address its priorities also need to change. I know that in my time here my views on a number of policy icons, which I held dear for a long time, started to change as I was presented with new ideas. I hope we do not hold on to our policy settings forever, just our principles.

On leaving this place I think about the composition of this place. In fact, Mr President, you were the person who first made me think about this when you pointed out at the function the other evening, which is now being referred to by everyone, that when the 14 of us—whom I have taken to referring to as ‘evictees’—leave this place and the new mob come in there will be 39 senators who have been here for three years or less, which will be a challenge for everyone in terms of the breadth and depth of experience. I came here having worked for a number of politicians. I found it difficult to work out how to make this place work for me in this role, yet I had a very good understanding of the rules of this place. I cannot imagine the challenge that this place will be for those who do not come with that background. I also started to think about the composition of this place. It is changing, sometimes for the better. Have a look round here. There are a lot more women here than there used to be, and that can only be a good thing. It will be an even better thing when we have the numbers! But what my party as a major party really needs to do is look at the breadth of people’s experience. I came here as a party hack—that is what we are called—and so did my very good friend Chris Evans. You could probably also put Nick Minchin in that category. We were elected officials for our respective political parties. I have enormous admiration for people like Nick and Chris but, when you combine the party hacks and the lawyers, there is not a lot left here—there is not much else.

I look around and I see my good friend Glenn Sterle, who started life as a truck driver. As I understand it, that was his aim in life and then he got sidetracked into other things, such as representing the views of his friends. It was never his aim to be a professional political activist, whether it were through the trade union movement or through the Labor Party. Therefore, I think people like Glenn bring a very unique perspective to this place and a perspective that I worry we will lose if we as a party do not have a mind to ensure that we maintain the breadth of representation.

The highlight of my time in this place has probably been working with a wonderful group of women—the cross-party women who have previously been referred to by others. They have been referred to by others a lot more eloquently, so I will not go into that, except to say that I echo all of those comments that have been made by Kerry and Linda and, in particular, by Natasha.

We have achieved some great things. I hope we have achieved them with a sense of pride and a sense of purpose but also a sense of respect for those who do not hold our views. I am disappointed to be leaving this place without one last achievement, which seemed to cause a great deal of anxiety around this place earlier today, which is the proposal to change the AusAID funding guidelines. It is disappointing that that issue has not come to a head and that a decision has not been made. As I said, we all hold strong views on issues like that, but we do need to remember to treat one another with respect. Sometimes the contributions that people make do go unnoticed. We could have had an interesting experience here this morning and it certainly would have got me all riled up. But thanks to my good friend Claire Moore and thanks to Lyn Allison, we did not, and I think those who oppose my view should also acknowledge that.

In concluding, I would like to thank the many people who have come in here and said some very kind things about me. It is always interesting sitting here and learning other people’s perspectives of your contribution to this place. I would like to thank the many people who have been in contact to say some very kind things. After I have had my first sleep-in in a long time on 1 July, I hope I will then be able to get around to personally thanking each and every one of you.

I look forward to the future; the future is good. I have had an incredible opportunity. I come from a state with a population of about two million people. There are only four people at any one time who get to do this job, which is to be a Labor senator from Western Australia, and that should be remembered. It is an incredible opportunity. You have to make the most of it. It has given me the skills, the strength and the confidence to go forward. Thank you.

5:51 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to acknowledge all the senators who will be leaving this place over the next day or so. Your work and your contributions have been recorded and now you will appear sometime in the future in the august Senate bibliography. We are looking forward to when it catches up to this century. I want to begin by mentioning that extraordinary bunch of women whom we are losing. But we are only losing them from this place; we are not losing them from action over the next few years and many years to come. All six of you strongly reflect the hopes and expectations of the women who fought so hard to get women into this place, to have the vote and be a part of the political system. When you go on the first floor of Parliament House and you see the suffragette banner, featuring women, saying, ‘Trust the women mother as I have done,’ that can be strongly reflected in each of your performances.

For over 20 years Senator Kay Patterson has been a strong servant of her people and many, many causes. The contributions that Kay has made make me think of that organisation that she so strongly represents and loves, Girl Guides Australia. With practicality, capability, hard work, a sense of duty and a real sense of humour I think there could be a toggle for parliamentary service for her.

Thank you, Lyn Allison, for giving us so much leadership and help and for working in solidarity with women. Your work in social justice will not be forgotten, nor will your expectation that there be cooperation amongst women across parties to achieve an end. Your work in mental health, peace and women’s movements will be remembered.

So much has been said about you, Natasha Stott Despoja. But I will not talk about the inspiration that you have been for so many years and will continue to be in the future. I enjoy watching Natasha Stott Despoja in this place, her workplace. She takes command when she comes in with her speeches and her oratory, which make you see the joy, the pride and the real commitment she has to getting her job done. Thank you and we will continue to work with you in the future. I want to see you speaking publicly many times again.

Kerry Nettle, we have worked well together. Your fearless devotion to social justice will always be remembered. Despite sometimes having to fight the good fight with not a lot of support around the house, you are a task- and an issue-driven politician, which is what we need—although that has always been tempered by compassion and your sense of humour and duty.

Linda Kirk, we have always worked well together. Your intellect has been mentioned by so many people. We acknowledge your professional skills and that you work with a quiet dignity, which sometimes means that perhaps people do not immediately take notice. Nonetheless, the strength of your contribution, the grace of your teamwork and the inspiration you provide will continue in your work, particularly in the areas of refugees and social justice. No-one can forget Linda Kirk’s first speech in this place. It stopped us, and we knew that we had real value in her. That value must continue, and we know it will.

I want to talk a little bit about the two Andrews. Andrew Murray has such a mastery of the English language, which he shows so often. I will always remember his statement yesterday:

I like committees because you learn stuff.

I think that sums it up. His contributions will always be remembered, as has been mentioned many times. I want to thank him for his strong support and generosity. He took the time to work with someone who was not good at economics, and that is well known. He intrigued me with the special nature of taxation issues and actually took the time to teach patiently. His work with the forgotten Australians is a challenge that he has given to all of us. That challenge must not be forgotten.

My friend Andrew Bartlett, Queensland has been very well served by you. I could say much about your commitment, your knowledge and your passion about issues but I think that sharing with you the other afternoon the thanks from the refugee community of Queensland means more than people standing up in this place making speeches. That community has a genuine love for you and your work, which must continue. It will be a legacy I know you will continue to hold dear as you keep on working—and you do not stop. You will not stop and that will not happen.

To my friend George Campbell: your knowledge and work in the union movement, knowledge of manufacturing and amazing networks will always be there. No-one is unaware of the status that George Campbell has in that process. I want to mention the amazing generosity of the man—although not always with bills!—on a personal basis. He actually gave time and support to a new senator. He understood the fear that was there and took the time to give advice and be warm and welcoming. I want to particularly mention the fact that George would welcome people from the community who were visiting this place into his office and genuinely take the time to entertain and share with them. We all know his ability as a raconteur; we all know the way he can tell stories. People from community groups in this country who came to this place will always remember the time they had with George Campbell. They talk about the warmth of that experience. He will continue working in our community, I know, but I think that his generosity must be acknowledged, as well as his amazing skill and his life commitment to the wider union movement, including the metal workers union, one of my unions.

My good friend Ruth Webber just made an extraordinary speech; I think it was a wonderful speech. Ruth, one of the benefits of this place is you can have true friendships, and I think we have achieved that. I will remember the great loyalty and support that you provide, your common-sense approach to things, the way you cut through—and I will not say the word that comes immediately to mind—and provide strong advice and the fact that you actually are there in the bad times as well as the good. Western Australia had a good senator in Ruth Webber. Most of her contributions in this place and elsewhere began with, ‘As a Western Australian, my home state’. That was the passion she brought to her contributions. As a party woman, she knew the rules. She knew how it worked and she helped us through those processes. Particularly in the areas of mental health and disabilities, you have done amazing things and we are proud to have worked with you, and we know we will continue to do so in the future.

To all the senators who have become friends as well as workmates: you have done your job. You have made this place a better place and have continued the contributions that this Senate makes to our parliamentary system.

5:58 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to acknowledge and pay tribute to the contribution made by my colleague Senator Ruth Webber. As Ruth indicated in her speech, we met when we got elected together at the 2001 election and in the processes leading up to us taking our seats in this place in 2002. We became friends straightaway. We both enjoyed a glass of wine, which certainly helped to form a long-term relationship. Ruth always enjoyed white wine; I enjoyed red. But in most other matters we actually agreed. In stark contrast to the comments I made about my colleague Senator Campbell, on most issues I agreed with Ruth. When we did not agree, more often than not she was right, not me. But on one occasion we both got it wrong: we both voted for Mark Latham. Nonetheless, you live and learn.

Being elected with Ruth in the ALP class of 2002 meant we discovered the intricacies and eccentricities of the Senate process together. Senator Webber took to the process with gusto, showing that she was a quick learner in the ways of the Senate—something which may have had a lot to do with her long history of activism across Australia. It also may have had something to do with her having been a whip’s clerk, which is something she conveniently omitted to tell me at the time. And I have just learnt tonight that she also worked for a former senator who was in fact a former federal Labor minister.

Ruth immediately took the fight up to the conservatives, not only on the traditional Labor issues such as workers’ rights but also on human rights, environmental policy and the community services area, where she had long been active before being elected to this place. This work showed Ruth’s continuing commitment to making life better for Australians now and in the future.

Ruth not only acknowledged the achievements that were hard fought and won by previous generations of the Labor movement but realised that she had a part to play in protecting these and building upon them. She is a passionate believer in the central tenet of the Labor Party—the value of employment. She has always believed in work for everyone who wants work, work that is safe and healthy, work that has fair pay, work that allows time for family and community, work that is rewarding and stimulating and work for each according to their abilities. This is why she fought so strongly against Work Choices and for IR policy that valued people and their work.

Ruth has always held the strong belief that economic opportunity is central to ordinary Australians’ lives and she has argued for all people to be able to participate meaningfully in our economy. This naturally followed on from her work with community groups such as Jobs West and DOME, a community based labour market program for mature age unemployed people. In line with this, since entering the Senate Ruth has been a permanent member of the Senate Standing Committee on Economics, where she has worked on many different proposals for economic participation and on numerous pieces of legislation and inquiries.

Ruth has always acknowledged the social change fought for and achieved by progressive people. In pursuit of social change she achieved progressive victories in this place when such victories were few and far between. She achieved victories across party lines and showed how the Senate could be revived as a place for debate and leadership on issues of concern to the Australian community. We saw this in her work on the legislation to allow for the approval and import of RU486 and on the first draft of the most recent stem cell research legislation, which has now been passed by both houses of the federal parliament.

Ruth has worked tirelessly on behalf of all Western Australians in her role as a senator for that state. I recall many Senate estimates sessions where different government departments would be asked about their work in some remote community in Western Australia. If Ruth had not received a satisfactory outcome, she was dogged in her determination to ensure that one was ultimately achieved, regardless of who she had to pursue. Even in the last estimates round she was still hounding Australia Post about providing postal services to rural and remote locations like Tom Price and Marble Bar.

I will miss Ruth’s contribution to this place and I will miss her presence here, as she has been a source of great friendship and great support. Thank you, Ruth. I very much look forward to continuing our friendship outside of this place.

6:03 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to make a few remarks about the three retiring ALP senators; however, before I do I would like to offer my best wishes to all of the retiring senators. Not only is the Senate losing a great deal of experience but many of us are losing the ability to have sage advice at hand, and in some cases we are losing our buddies. I thank them for their work and for their contribution and I offer my best wishes to them.

I would like to particularly mention my Tasmanian colleague Liberal Senator John Watson. John is retiring after three decades of service to the Senate and to Tasmania. He has received from his coalition colleagues and from other senators in this place many accolades and due recognition for his long and valuable contribution to the parliament, and of course to his Tasmanian constituency, and I would like to add my remarks to theirs. John commenced his Senate service on 1 July 1978. Whilst I have only personally worked with Senator Watson in this place since late 2005, most particularly on the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, it has been a pleasure to work with ‘Watto’, as he is affectionately known around the Senate. He is known for his dedication and dogged determination to raise issues of particular interest. As you would expect from Senator Watson, he has taken the time to write to his fellow Tasmanians—all of them, I believe! He wrote to thank them for giving him the opportunity to serve them and to bid them farewell. I have my copy of your letter, John! But I do believe that your photo on the letterhead is probably 30 years old as well. I suppose we are all a bit guilty of using the most flattering photos. I know your services will be in great demand back home. Thank you, John, and best wishes for the future.

I now return to the three retiring ALP senators. I would like to take this opportunity to make a few departing remarks about my fellow Labor colleague Senator Linda Kirk. Senator Kirk’s departure comes as a great loss to those on this side of the chamber—indeed, to the parliament as a whole. It is such a pleasure to serve in this chamber with people such as Linda. Linda is a woman of principle who has truly used her time here in the Senate to champion a number of significant causes in various roles, not least of which was her role as convenor of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse, a position which has revealed Linda’s strength of character in what is a deeply emotional and difficult but extremely important area. It is extremely important work, as the Australian statistics are shocking. Nearly 60,000 children are believed to be at risk each and every year. Linda raised with the Senate the extent of the child abuse problem on a national and global level and, importantly, raised what we could do about it. The issue of child abuse is a national concern, and the government is providing national leadership on what is our most serious national priority. Linda, along with the other female senators who are leaving this chamber, has done an excellent job in promoting the role of women in the Australian parliament and in aiding the health of our great democracy.

Now I turn to Senator George Campbell. I take the opportunity to indicate to the chamber that I knew of George Campbell prior to him becoming a senator. If you were a member of the Australian Labor Party, or if indeed you read a national newspaper, you could not help but know who George Campbell was. During my brief time in this place I have been lucky enough to get to know George Campbell not only as a parliamentary colleague but also as a friend. Many a fond memory has been kindled over a takeaway and a hearty joke, and there was probably a lot of rewriting of history in the Opposition Whip’s office with George and others, with Senator Campbell, as you would expect, taking centre stage. Not one afraid of speaking his mind, the man I have got to know during my time here is indeed a man of the highest order, a man of great conviction, loyalty and respect.

There are few who have advocated the great Labor ideals of equality and a fair go for all as passionately as Senator George Campbell. Indeed, since migrating to Australia in 1965, Senator Campbell has worked tirelessly to protect and promote the rights of Australian workers and their families, first through his long and successful involvement in the trade union movement and then of course as a senator for New South Wales. It seems fitting that his departure from the Senate corresponds with the end of Work Choices and the election of a Labor government with a clear mandate to reintroduce fairness to the Australian workplace. During his time in this place, Senator Campbell has served both the Australian public and the Labor Party extremely well, serving on various committees and acting as Opposition Whip. It was, however, a position which, as we heard in George’s valedictory speech last week, he considered somewhat cursed. Indeed, one of my most vivid memories of Senator Campbell is of him in his role as Opposition Whip after I missed my first division. Looking back on it now the scene seems highly amusing, but it certainly was not at the time. George’s face went from red to scarlet, eventually settling on blue; I, of course, was white. I did not miss another division—well, actually, I did miss another division—and I do not recommend it to any of the new senators, unless of course they are voting against the ALP position, when they are welcome to do it.

In summary, I wish to acknowledge the great contribution that Senator Campbell has made in passionately advocating for New South Wales and protecting the rights of Australian workers in this place. He has done so with the greatest dedication, honesty and conviction. His presence here, particularly during question time, will be dearly missed.

The most difficult part of my contribution here tonight is to say farewell to my friend Senator Ruth Webber, senator for Western Australia. It is indeed sad that Senator Webber will no longer be with us in the Senate. I have spent a considerable amount of time over the last couple of days thinking about exactly what I could say as a fitting tribute to Senator Webber here tonight, and it seems, as is always the case on such significant occasions, the words just will not come out right. So let me start by saying that, first and foremost, it has been an absolute pleasure serving with Ruth during my short time in this place. It does not take anyone who has met Ruth long to figure out that she is a woman with great strength of character. She is wise, intelligent and above all committed. Ruth is loyal to her friends, her party and her ideals. She is always prepared to put in the hard yards supporting party members, candidates and colleagues, particularly when times get tough.

Senator Webber is a wise counsel when one needs advice. In a testament to her strength of character, during her time here Ruth has proven that she is not afraid to take on difficult tasks or deal with complex issues. Indeed, Ruth has not shied away from issues and, when not initiating discussion, she has certainly been an active supporter of various controversial and complex pieces of legislation. As we all know, it is not easy to be successful when legislation divides caucuses; it is extremely difficult. But the mark of this woman is that she has been involved in the successful passage of several monumental pieces of policy, including RU486 and stem cell legislation. The work and the hours Ruth put in on the stem cell legislation, along with Senators Stott Despoja and Patterson and other senators, was fundamental to seeing the legislation passed, an experience that was quite exhausting and stressful. However, having said that, Ruth has always been determined that matters such as these are, as much as possible, debated and conducted with respect and that people are allowed to put their views.

I can tell you what Ruth is not: Ruth is not a hands-off politician. She is not afraid to speak her mind, as many around the chamber can attest. And I can tell you what Ruth is: Ruth is passionate about the Labor Party; Ruth is passionate about the proactive and positive role for women in our democracy. Ruth does not just talk the talk; she walks the walk when it comes to supporting her colleagues. Ruth has provided me encouragement, support and occasionally a not-so-gentle push, all of which I am grateful for. Politics presents us with many challenges and opportunities, and I have been honoured to have worked alongside Senator Ruth Webber. I know that we will continue our friendship outside this place but I will miss Ruth being here all the same.