Thursday, 26 June 2008
I would like to add my voice to the acknowledgement of the contribution of Senator Webber and other departing senators. As I explained in my own valedictory last night, because of the unique circumstances facing the Democrats I did not have the time I would normally have to acknowledge the contribution of others or broader issues. I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge particularly Senator Webber, and also the other 13 departing senators who are leaving this chamber alongside me, plus Senator Ray.
Senator Webber, like Senator Kirk, served for only the one term and, without passing judgement on their party’s decisions, I think that is not only a detriment to their party but also a loss to the Senate. As we all know, we are all subject to the vagaries not just of the electorate but also of the processes that get us preselected—or not preselected—for this place. I certainly do not seek to pass judgement on other parties for their decision-making, but I think the departure of both of these women is nonetheless a loss to the Senate and, I believe, premature. The work of Senator Kirk and her expertise—I certainly know of her expertise in the area of immigration but she had expertise in other areas also—was of real value to the Senate in its core role of legislating. This role is often seriously undervalued and under-recognised, particularly by the media and others.
I have said it many times before and I will not have much opportunity to say it again, so I will say it one more time: we need to continually remind people that the vast majority of the things we do here—the arguments we have, the debates we have—is focused around the legislative process; that is, laws. Those laws affect people’s lives directly and often quite enormously. Often they affect very large numbers of people, and we do need to have people here who have the expertise and the focus to work on the legislative process and the detail. Both Senator Webber and Senator Kirk have that expertise and that focus. It is understandable—but I think it is a really unfortunate trait—that when outsiders assess the careers of politicians they basically tick off the titles and, for major party people, whether they got to the front bench, whether they were a minister or whether they got into cabinet. Of course, those things are important, but it does have the unfortunate side effect of suggesting that the role of backbenchers is somehow lesser. And it is not always lesser. I can absolutely guarantee that from my time here.
I have seen some people in backbench roles who have made an enormous difference, and I would add into that another departing senator from the other side, Senator Watson. As others have reflected, his expertise in areas of superannuation and tax has made a direct contribution. The very fact that people such as these have made their contribution in part by persuading others, and have therefore had change made by widespread agreement rather than by a crash or crash through type of thing, or being the person leading the charge out the front means it does not get noticed as much. But the change is just as real and sometimes more sustainable as well. I acknowledge the contributions of Senator Webber, Senator Kirk and also Senator George Campbell, the other departing Labor senator, who has been here slightly longer than I—just a brief period. He came in just before me in 1997. All of them in my experience have been effective in different roles. I have had more to do with the first two than with Senator Campbell, at least in committee and legislative work. I pay tribute and acknowledge what they have done.
I recall the work Senator Webber put into the stem cell legislation and I have some recollection of the work she put into me and to the vote I might take on that. I should say I am still not sure whether or not I should have voted the way I did.
I do not know. So, if you had all adjourned that debate until I had made up my mind, you would still be waiting because I still have not made up my mind. But, as we all know, you have to vote one way or the other when the final calls come. More often than not I would still vote the same way I did, but I acknowledge Senator Webber’s commitment to that. And I might say as a general comment, more broadly, that it is not just the opinions people put but the process that is involved that is important. When you are dealing with people who are not sure or who see the validity of differing views, the way you put your argument makes a difference. I have that trait and it is sometimes quite a curse. I can see the merit in a range of different perspectives. I think it is worth remembering in a broader context that, if you put your case in a respectful and genuine way and in a way that does not just slag off everybody who might disagree with you, you are more likely to get agreement. Although I would not say that it applied to everybody who had an alternative view by any means, I can think of a few of the people who could have taken a similar approach on the other side of the debate. Who knows?
Then there are the other departing coalition Senators Patterson, Kemp, Lightfoot, Chapman and Sandy Macdonald. I have already mentioned Senator Watson. Again, you have different experiences with people on different committees. I have never been one for insincere praise and overly glowing platitudes when I do not actually mean them. I do not like doing those things in any sort of context. I have not had a lot to do with some of those people. Some I will not pretend I got on overly well with. But I acknowledge that all of them made contributions in their own area—a lot of them over an extraordinarily long period of time. I particularly admire the contribution of Senator Watson. Even though I did not have a lot to do with him, I was conscious enough of his expertise and the way he went about it to see the impact that he has had.
I have already spoken about the Democrats and my departing Senate colleagues. I have not mentioned Senator Nettle and I would like to acknowledge her contribution. She in some ways worked parallel to me, particularly on the issues of refugees and human rights. In some ways having someone doing the same things means you are battling on the same turf, but in a broader context it is way better. Sometimes it is a battle about who can get the attention. But it is much better to have someone else working alongside you on the same issue, because you have two voices out there doubling the effort and doubling the attention drawn to that issue. It is about the issues, and I acknowledge the contributions she has made and the difference she made in those areas and a number of others.
Senator Nettle was another one who served only a six-year term; she initially came to this place replacing Senator Vicki Bourne, a Democrat from New South Wales. It was a disappointment to me at the time that the Democrat seat was lost and went to the Greens, but it is a greater disappointment to me that that seat has now been lost and has gone to the major parties. That is no reflection on the person who has got it; I actually do not even know who from New South Wales has got it—no doubt some party hack: a union backroom official or whomever. The fact that there is now no representation outside of the major parties in New South Wales, as in my home state of Queensland, is a disappointment to me.
I did note Senator Webber’s recognition of the importance of the role that party officials play. As I said last night, that role is undervalued and sometimes unfairly besmirched. I thought it was good that she acknowledged the role, although I think she then went on to say there are too many of them here, along with lawyers. Well, Senator Webber, you are going and I am going, so that is a couple of fewer party hacks in the place! But I suspect there are a couple of more coming in, so perhaps that balance will be kept.
Having noted that Senator Nettle’s seat is returning, on her departure, to the major parties, I will take the chance, along with my departing four Democrat colleagues, to note that of the high of nine Senate seats that the Democrats had six or seven years ago—and obviously the last of all of those nine are now gone, sadly—six have gone to the major parties; only three went to the smaller parties. Not long ago the crossbench was at a high of 13, including Senator Murphy, although I suppose one could quibble that he was a person first elected for a major party, so let us say it was 12 people elected as non-major-party senators. It is now at seven senators. That is a lot bigger workload, and I want to keep making that point.
Another thing I would say, in looking at the outgoing group of 15, if I count Senator Ray, is that, while it is a large number, it is also a reflection of the different factors that can impact on politics. I think the perfect way that all of us would like to leave this place is at a time of our own choosing without pressure from outside factors, happily retiring and seeing our seat handed on to another person from our own party. Obviously that did not happen for any of the Democrats, because none of our seats was carried forward by a Democrat. Counting through that 15, I think probably only two or maybe three are in that situation. Some fell short in the eyes of the electorate, some fell short because they were unsuccessful in preselection and there were perhaps one or two others who saw the writing on the wall and did not contest once they knew they would not win. To only have two or three in that position of retiring as they wish and having their seat go to someone in their own party shows how many factors can come into play and lead to such a turnover.
It is a record high turnover, and I concur with Senator Webber that it is a huge turnover when you add those leaving this time, those who left last time and those who have left in between. Combined with a shrunken crossbench, it places a huge responsibility on the new Senate. Also, as I am duty bound to say, combined with the departure of the Democrats and our corporate memory collectively, it is a big task for the new Senate. I do not doubt that the people in it will do their best and I am sure they will rise to the task. I wish them well in that.
I wish all departing senators the best for the future. One thing that is for sure about the Senate—and Senator Webber reflected on how incredible a place it is, what an immense privilege it is to be a senator and what an amazing learning experience it is—is that life does not end when you walk out the door. Many would say life begins, and I hope it does for all those who are departing. Taking the things that we have learnt and applying them again to the benefit of the wider community is something I am sure most, if not all, of those who are retiring will do. I wish them well in doing so.
I promise this will be a brief contribution. I feel a little remiss in not having acknowledged individual or specifically or indeed in more detail the contributions of other departing senators. Tonight I want to briefly acknowledge three particular female friends in this place with whom I have worked particularly closely. I am not going to attempt to revisit my valedictory or even to reflect on all senators or indeed my party. I have done that to some extent, and it is also too hard to talk particularly about colleagues and the things that we have been through. I am also standing up in a blatant attempt to prevent Senator Rod Kemp tabling the men of the Senate calendar, as he has threatened to do! If I have to, I will filibuster as my last show of defiance in this place.
Seriously, I cannot endeavour to pay tribute appropriately to all departing senators, and of course those include former Senator Robert Ray. He will forever be held in high esteem by me, not because of his extraordinary knowledge of the processes of this place but simply because he referred to me once as Princess Leia—and therefore he is good. I am sorry to say that it did involve him referring somewhat derogatorily to someone else as Jabba the Hutt, but that is not the point. I digress, Madam Acting Deputy President; you see: you give a departing senator the floor and we could stay here all night. I do not know but I think this is perhaps a form of denial.
I cannot do justice to all departing senators. I did salute or pay tribute in a general sense to them last night, but tonight very briefly and very quickly, given it is Senator Ruth Webber’s night, I would like to say to Ruth—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—I had a wonderful time working with you on the stem cell bill. I acknowledge your involvement in that was not always given a high profile, but you were the person who was brave enough, resolute enough and progressive enough to say, ‘I will put my name to this bill,’ and then, not just in name only, you did the work, you did the hard yards and you understood the legislation. I guess we would have liked it to have been a cross-party bill—because we knew it was going to get through, didn’t we?
Those were fun times—and let’s not even acknowledge that interjection. I mentioned last night, and I know that we have all reflected on this, that it has been unusual to have women working together in this place, but when it has happened it has been fantastic. I think a lot of tribute needs to be paid to the many senators involved in that instance and to Senator Webber in particular. I am sorry that you are not going to be in this place, Senator—and it is not that I am not going to be here so I am not going to miss your presence in that respect, and I am sure we are going to keep in touch and be dear friends, I hope, for a long time—because you have made an amazing contribution, and anyone listening to your speech would understand that, and there has also been your understanding of complex and broadranging issues, absolutely so.
Another fine legislator and dear friend is Senator Kerry Nettle. It may surprise people but, over the years, I have found her a wonderful sounding board, simpatico on a lot of things. We have had our political differences as well policy-wise, but the people of Australia need to understand that they are losing a fine legislator. I respect her role very much as an activist, wanting to bring the streets into the parliament, because that is our role. Certainly, the Democrats strongly believe too that we can be campaigners and activists but when we come in here we are legislators. I suspect some stereotypes of Greens senators, particularly by mainstream media, would be that they were not capable of being legislators. Well, Kerry Nettle is a legislator and it has been an honour to serve with her.
Finally, very briefly, my dear friend Senator Linda Kirk referred in her speech—in an oh so surreptitious way—to our ‘extracurricular activities’, which really just meant going out and having some fun girly times on occasion. Have we got so many constitutional lawyers in the Senate that we needed to get rid of this one? Hello! I will never quite understand or respect that decision but it is not my place and I understand that, in political parties, things happen. As a Democrat, you have to understand that. To Linda, your leaving will be a great loss here. I have really enjoyed being a friend but, more importantly, working with you. I know you are passionate about human rights and really nerdy stuff too—constitutional law; that is pretty nerdy. I always think constitutional lawyers should probably end up in the Senate. But, having said that, I think you will end up in an august body or institution that will do you, your family and this country proud. I have no doubt that, after here, you are destined for some exciting things and I look forward to sharing some of the down time with you.
To all my departing colleagues—it is just too hard to do this—I did want to take advantage of the fact that we were saluting Ruth in particular tonight and say that our stem cell bill will go down in the history books. It may not have passed this chamber—not with our names on it anyway—but it was one of the things I am most proud of. I just wanted to acknowledge and thank you for that.
It is quite a strange feeling to be saying goodbye to so many senators and I note Senator Webber’s reference to the situation where we will have some 39 senators in this place with less than three years experience under their belt. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those senators that I have had the privilege of working with during their time here.
To Senator Patterson, thank you for your friendship and contribution. I got to know Senator Patterson on the Senate Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts Legislation Committee when she was chair of the committee. I remember many a late night discussing things as we worked through the very long agendas of those committees. She is a fascinating person, a strong personality and I know she will be missed in this place.
Senator Lightfoot was the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories for as long as I can remember and, being a member of that committee for as long as I have been here as well, I would like to say that it was a pleasure to work with Senator Lightfoot. I appreciate his stewardship of that committee over such a long time.
I have worked with all of the Democrat senators, Senator Stott Despoja, Senator Allison, Senator Bartlett and Senator Murray on a whole range of senate committees from time to time over the last 12 years or so. In particular, Senator Murray and I worked very closely together on some of the early IT outsourcing Senate inquiries, which have faded into the dim history of the Senate now but remain strong in my memory at least. A powerful legacy left by Senator Murray is what is known as the ‘Murray motion’, the production of the lists of contracts by agencies and departments to allow greater accountability and scrutiny in this place of how agencies and departments expend taxpayers’ dollars through contracts.
To Senator Kemp, I wish you well in the future and I wanted to note that I think you did have a bit of fun at the last round of Senate estimates trying to relive the glory days of your portfolio in the stewardship of the arts and sport portfolio, asking officials if they could quantify the gains to their respective programs and agencies during Senator Kemp’s tenure as minister. I have to say that I was quite happy to let him go down this track because, from time to time, all my colleagues know that I found Senator Kemp’s conduct at Senate estimates quite exasperating. And the trick was not to show it because, if you showed it, he got all excited and played up, making it very difficult for me to do my job. I have no doubt that this was a deliberate tactic on his part and I would like to thank Senator Kemp for the role he played in helping me practise my poker face and trying not to show the frustration I was feeling. Senator Kemp, I wish you all the best in the future.
I obviously want to reflect on my Labor colleagues Senator Ruth Webber, George Campbell and Linda Kirk and to say a few words about Senator Robert Ray. Senator George Campbell is one of those people whose reputation did precede him into this place well and truly. I knew him from my time at the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union through the various building union events over the years and other Labor left activities.
He was a fierce campaigner, and this very traditional advocacy for working people took on new dimensions when in the hands of Senator Campbell. His ability to translate the aspirations of the proud employees of the critical industry sector, that being manufacturing, on to another plane of the economic debate was quite inspiring for me to observe. His grasp of the global economic challenges that faced and still face manufacturing as a sector in Australia has ensured that manufacturing has remained a centrepiece of Labor policy.
Senator Campbell’s capacity to bring his union and membership and, while as a senator, the whole industry with him on these issues is a wonderful legacy. He has been the de facto spokesperson for manufacturing, regardless of his actual position within federal Labor. I think it is appropriate to say thank you on behalf of all of the employees, business and unions—everyone alike—that are in some way engaged with manufacturing to Senator George Campbell for his advocacy on behalf of manufacturing in this country.
I also have a reason to thank Senator George Campbell as Opposition Whip. I live here in Canberra, and I know I am very lucky in this regard, because I get to see my family more often. It also means I am able to get to parent-teacher nights and to pick up the kids if they are stuck. Senator Campbell, as whip, helped me with the pairs necessary to make my family life a little more normal. For this, I am very grateful. These small things to help out me, my husband and the kids meant a great deal and I thank him sincerely for that.
Senator Linda Kirk made us all sit up and take notice with her first speech. We have all reflected on it at one point or another. It was thoughtful and confronting. I am dismayed that I have to say goodbye to her at all, let alone so soon. We need people like Senator Kirk because of the intellect she brings to her area of expertise—the law and, in particular, constitutional law. We have had advocates in these areas before as part of the Labor team. I remember Senator Barney Cooney was previously well established in this role.
The great strength of the great Labor Party is that we can as a team leverage the incredible expertise that different individuals bring, and I particularly acknowledge Senator Kirk’s compassion and care in relation to the needs of children and child protection. She has changed lives and she has probably saved some. We are not experts at everything, and we need and we rely on these sharp minds in the Senate. For this reason, in particular, Senator Kirk will be missed—and I think noticeably.
I have not spent much time with Linda on committees, but she has a wonderful confidence-inspiring manner that I will truly miss. I would also like to acknowledge her strength of character and, in particular, her support for controversial legislation such as that dealing with RU486 and stem cell research, joining other progressive women to make history.
I would also like to say a few things about Senator Webber. You will not be surprised that it is in respect to a lot of the work and the contribution she has made to the Senate, in particular, on mental health on the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. Her work to ensure the engagement by the local government sector in housing options and the inclusion of people experiencing mental illness has left a strong legacy of improvements and assisted in firmly placing this issue at the centre of federal policy agendas.
I would like tonight to echo Senator Webber’s call that this issue continue to be pursued with the specific focus that she outlined. It makes sense, it is a strong vision for the future and we would be wise to listen. I trust that good use is made of this expertise in one way or in another in the future. The sort of experience gained by so many years of developing a thorough and in-depth knowledge ought not be squandered in any way.
I would also like to note her representation of the people of Western Australia. Her abiding commitment to make sure that communities outside the city and way up north in the Kimberley and the mining towns were represented is to be acknowledged and commended. Again, coming from Canberra, I find it hard to grasp the burden of travel that my colleagues from the west and the far north endure, let alone the scope of their duties in representing remote communities and giving them a voice in this place.
In Senator Webber’s case this voice, we all know, is loud—literally—but it is loud in a political sense, and she has been an effective voice for the people of regional, rural and remote Western Australia. I should also mention that one of her advocacy causes has been the frustrations experienced by people in the west in relation to broadband and access speeds. This is an issue that I have a great interest in, and Ruth has given form and substance to these complaints and made sure that the west has been well and truly represented in the telecommunications debate as a result.
I would also like to acknowledge the leadership role she played with respect to the stem cell research legislation. I think Ruth’s leadership on and commitment to the RU486 debate will go down in history. She and Linda have stood side by side with a group of progressive women who changed the rules in this place in the sense that we stood up and made a difference.
I would like to close by making a few comments about Senator Robert Ray. Senator Ray is not here. It was very strange for me, reading about his early departure in the press and then finding his office already cleaned out. Senator Robert Ray has been an incredible inspiration to me. Not only has his capacity to articulate a principle and then pursue a policy path and a path of action based on those principles served me as a strong guide in appropriate conduct and contribution to this place, but he will certainly always stand in my mind as a wonderful role model, mentor and inspiration. For that, I would like to thank Senator Robert Ray from the bottom of my heart—the leadership that he provided to me as a new senator, many years ago now, and for the contribution he continued to make in a whole range of areas, not least the dignity of this institution throughout the course of his Senate career.
To all of the departing senators, thank you from me personally and thank you for the work you have done in this place. You will be missed.