Thursday, 1 March 2012
Mr President, I seek leave to make a statement about my imminent retirement.
So far this final speech is going much better than my first speech. Just seconds before I rose to give my inaugural speech, my speaking notes disappeared miraculously, leaving me with a heart rate of about 180 beats per minute. Thankfully, my good friends and TWU colleagues Senator Sterle and Senator Hutchins took pity on me and returned my notes with seconds to go! I thank Senator Sterle for showing restraint today, although I know that if Senator Hutchins were here with him they would be egging each other on to try to embarrass me!
Today of course I rise to give my final speech to the Senate and to the Australian people. I do this with great pride and in the knowledge that I have set a world record for being the shortest-ever serving Manager of Government Business in the Senate, a total of seven days. As anyone who has served in this job would know—particularly now-smiling Senator Ludwig, and Senator Fifield—it is a record I am very happy to hold, given the extreme work demands around the position.
Unfortunately, due to the work commitments of my wife, and because my kids are at school, they are unable to attend today. That is good news for Senate security, because I remember in my first speech my six-month-old daughter was making such a racket that they tried to turf her out of the building, and my wife suggested to the security officer—and it probably was not appropriate at the time—that he jump off the balcony! So security officers can relax today that my wife and child are not here.
There has been a great deal of speculation about my future and everyone is looking for the bombshells. Can I say, the reasons for my resignation are in my statement and I can assure everyone that I am not leaving this chamber to go Summer Bay for Channel 7.
Thank you, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. When I decided to leave this wonderful chamber, I picked up my first speech and re-read it. I looked at what I had said and what I had committed to and the principles and ideals that I believed in. I believe, as all senators and all parliamentarians believe, that I have lived up to those ideals and to those commitments, and that is something I am very proud of.
In February this year, it was 20 years exactly since I joined the Labor Party. I was 20 when I joined and I am proud to have represented the party as an official and a senator for 16 years. My love for the party has not diminished one bit. It is a party that I love and believe in. It is a party I am eternally grateful to. I have been lucky and proud to serve in a Labor government led, first, by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and now Prime Minister Julia Gillard. This government has been an embodiment of Labor ideals and the Labor reformist tradition.
What we have been able to achieve for the Australian people in such a short period of time is extraordinary. We have only reached one-third the period of the Howard government and already we have introduced the country's first-ever Paid Parental Leave Scheme, a policy that I have long advocated for. We delivered the historic apology to the stolen generations, we ratified Kyoto, we delivered a massive investment in education reform and mental health reform. We doubled the road-funding budget and invested an extra $20 billion in housing and homelessness programs. We rolled out the most significant piece of infrastructure for national productivity, the national broadband network, and secured the separation of Telstra. And we have delivered major reforms to our tax system to share the great wealth of the mining boom by taxing mining companies fairly and using the proceeds to help fund new infrastructure, increase superannuation, and introduce tax breaks for small business.
But when it comes to delivering tough reforms, I am immensely proud of our government for delivering a price on carbon in the face of hysterical and ill-informed scare campaigns from the conservatives. As I have always said, including in my first speech to this place, the Labor way is to show courage, leadership and the political will to get the job done. The Labor Party has shown that courage and it will be to our eternal credit.
I have always advocated for a market based solution to global warming, and the experts agree that it is hands down the best way to reduce carbon pollution. I have the utmost praise for the Prime Minister in her strength and determination to put in place a price on carbon. Prime Minister Gillard is a remarkable person. She is an outstanding human being. She is tough, she is talented, and she is a friend. I will always be her humble servant.
I want to take this time not just to praise her as a Prime Minister but also to praise her as an education minister. I was lucky enough to serve with her when she was the education minister. I saw her vision for education, I saw her vision for schools, and it is something I truly believe in. I hope that both sides of parliament in future continue the reforms in education, empowering school principals so that they can make the decisions they need to make to get the best education for their children; ensuring the best and most talented teachers are rewarded financially; and looking at ideas such as charter schools in areas such as remote Indigenous communities and also in those very, very difficult-to-teach-in lower socioeconomic schools. Charter schools have worked overseas and they can work here, but only in the areas of extreme need.
I want to take this opportunity to put on record my support also for the Prime Minister in the way she has dealt with the global financial crisis, and also for the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The work that has been done saved the country from recession and kept 200,000 people in jobs. To the Treasurer, my friend Wayne Swan, I have only had three months to work with him as Assistant Treasurer, but I worked closely with him during the GFC. When the history books are written, his name will go down as one of the very best Treasurers Australia has ever had. If the only criticism commentators can come up with about the Treasurer is that he lacks sparkle, then Wayne Swan should wear that as a badge of honour. I want a Treasurer that can get the country through a crisis, a Treasurer that delivers high employment levels, strong economic growth, a solid investment pipeline, and low debt. That is Wayne Swan, and I pay tribute to him.
Minister Wong, the finance minister, who works with him and is a critical part of the economic team, has also done an outstanding job in this area, and I congratulate her for the work she has done. She is one of the most impressive ministers I have ever worked with. She upholds all the characteristics of past finance ministers, something that I and many of my ministerial colleagues have learnt when we have entered ERC and asked for program money. I pass on my best wishes to her for the future and also to her family.
Mr President, I leave the Australian parliament deeply proud of what Labor has been able to achieve in government particularly under very exceptional circumstances—first the global economic crisis, now a European sovereign debt crisis, and of course the difficulties of managing a minority government. As a Labor government we proved how strong our economic credentials are. As I said, we avoided the recession. We kept the economy strong as countries around us collapsed. Other countries believe we are the envy of the world. They cannot understand how we have been able to avoid some of the downturns and the social problems that they have experienced since the start of the crisis. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was an extraordinary leader. He won the 2007 election and he brought us into government. I honour his legacy, particularly in two areas of policy I am incredibly passionate about that he put squarely on the political agenda: homelessness and affordable housing, and Closing the Gap and the apology to the stolen generation. The plight of the homeless is often one of those confronting social issues that all too many of us prefer to ignore or pretend is unfixable. People might say the problems are too complex to fix, but when I was the Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness I saw time and time again people's lives being turned around and turned around permanently.
I am extremely proud of what the government is doing in this area and also our record $2.2 billion investment in mental health. We know that there is a high coincidence between chronic mental illness and homelessness. Sadly, it is a very disastrous by-product of deinstitutionalisation. Deinstitutionalisation was a good thing, but when you say, 'Let's not lock people up in mental institutions, let's use community based care services,' you have to make sure that the services are there.
Again, I am proud to have been part of a Labor government that has given the greatest ever boost to homelessness funding in federal history, $5 billion, and to have set strong ambitious targets to reduce homelessness—a strategy and a plan that is working. We are getting results. I saw this firsthand as the minister. We are making progress and I urge all parliamentarians in this chamber and in the other place to continue the work on homelessness. Make it a bipartisan issue. We can break the cycle.
When we talk about the issue, though, it is not just about more money. I know a lot of people say to just put more money into it. It is not about more money. We need to change the way we approach housing in this country. We have major problems around affordable housing. During the GFC we introduced some extremely good programs, some great programs—the government's National Rental Affordability Scheme and the Social Housing Initiative. I know the Labor government will continue to support those schemes, but we need to do more. We need real reform of the social housing, affordable housing sector. I hope that the next round of funding to the states under the NAHA, the National Affordable Housing Agreement, is dramatically different. We need strong targets to measure actual progress in outcomes and growth in the housing stock but also to measure what we can do to factor in new homes for people who are homeless.
We need to move away from a monopoly over social housing by inefficient state bureaucracies. We need to encourage more community housing and we need a regulatory system for housing providers, including state governments. Putting up roadblocks in the way of a better social and affordable housing system makes me incredibly angry, because it is poorer Australians that suffer as a result. I know that the advisory council that I set up headed by former FaHCSIA secretary Jeff Harmer has the talent, the vision and the knowhow and will work with the government to reform social and affordable housing.
There are lots of models; there are lots of ways. One of the ones that I think we should seriously consider is the Defence Housing Association model. It has achieved great success for that sector in increasing housing stock but also has been a credible investment vehicle for mums and dads. I think there are major possibilities for that scheme to be moved across to affordable housing to assist with aged housing and also social housing. It needs to be looked at. I know that this is something that the government will continue and I hope all senators sign up to it.
When I entered the parliament I said in my first speech that the only way to achieve real results for Indigenous Australians was to empower them through education and training and to break the cycle of welfare dependency. I was lucky enough to serve as minister responsible for Indigenous employment for 2½ years, first as Minister for Employment Participation and then as the Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development in the newly created portfolio. During that time I worked closely with Indigenous people and organisations and the private sector to do exactly what I set out to do: empowering Indigenous Australians through education and training and breaking the cycle. We have come a long way in a short period of time.
Together with Indigenous business leaders, I set up the Australian Indigenous Minority Supply Council, or AIMSC, which connects Indigenous suppliers or businesses with government and corporate purchasers. In its first two years of operation, AIMSC facilitated $21.7 million in contracts between small businesses and suppliers. That is $21.7 million in revenue for Indigenous small business, which is phenomenal. It is going to help a lot of businesses.
I also worked closely with Penny Wong and then Minister for Finance and Deregulation Lindsay Tanner to implement the Indigenous business opportunities policy as well as exemptions to mandatory procurement procedures for Indigenous small and medium enterprises. It is the growth of Indigenous businesses that will break the cycle of welfare dependency and mean long-term economic development for Indigenous Australians, because not only do they create wealth for individuals but also it means more Indigenous jobs and we are seeing it every day.
When I travelled out to remote Indigenous communities throughout the country I was struck by the unique unemployment challenges those communities face because of their remoteness, because of the lack of markets. I began to see that the government's unemployment service, Job Services Australia, was not working as it should in remote Australia. We needed to do better; we needed to change the model. That is why I began the process of reform to establish a new remote employment services system—a system that is tailored to the circumstances of individual communities and their job seekers, a system that is flexible and responsive, a system that will deliver better results for Indigenous job seekers. I look forward to being outside the Senate to see this new system put in place over the coming years and to see the positive changes it will bring in those communities, helping not just job seekers but Indigenous leaders and Indigenous communities to help themselves. That is what they want to do. They want to break the welfare cycle more than anybody. We need to give them the tools to do that, but governments cannot do it alone and, when governments are leading it, often we fail. We need Indigenous communities to lead the way and this system is set up so that they can do just that.
But the work I am most proud of in the Indigenous employment portfolio is around schools. The best way, the only way, to make the shifts we need to in Indigenous employment is through the school system. We are investing huge resources to do just that. One of my favourite programs is the Learn Earn Legend! program. It is about keeping kids at school to year 12. We know that if a child stays on and gets an education it is going to give them the best chance of getting a job, getting employment. If they get a job, they become a role model, a legend for their own community, and that is what we need: role models. If the parents have not worked or been to school, what is the incentive for anyone in a family to go to school? That is what Learn Earn Legend! is about. This is a program that is working. This is not training for training's sake. This program is achieving results in the schools in working with business. We bring business into the school gate, we bring sporting groups into the school gate, we set up partnerships for training—real-life work experience during the week—and we are getting conversion rates.
The Titan program has 85 per cent conversion from school to employment or further education. It is working—it is working now—and in 10 years time we will wake up and see Indigenous lawyers, doctors, politicians, teachers, police officers and welfare workers, and we will wonder where this most talented generation came from. The work is being done right now, and that is something that I will never forget. I thank all the workers in FaHCSIA and in DEEWR, and of course Jenny Macklin—who without doubt is the best ever minister for Indigenous affairs in the country's history—for the work she has done.
Without doubt, one of the best jobs in the country is that of Minister for Sport.
I will take that interjection. I was incredibly lucky to serve in that role for 18 months. I do not think I need to explain to anyone in this chamber, anyone in the audience or anyone who is listening how important sport is to us as Australians and to our culture. But I do not think Australians really understand the power of sport. We love watching it but we do not understand the power of it. Sport has the power to transform lives and, right across the country, in small towns and big cities, I have seen sport inspire young people, old people, people with a disability and people from every imaginable background and circumstance to do things they thought were never possible. I just need to look at my own life to understand the power of sport. If you do not believe me—if you think I am gilding the lily—speak to someone like Kurt Fearnley, one of Australia's best and greatest athletes, about the power of sport to help young kids with a disability. Sport changes lives. So much of the values you learn through sport, like resilience, friendship and self-confidence, are lifelong values we need to teach all our kids.
A fundamental goal that has underpinned everything I have tried to do as minister for sport is the desire to get more kids enjoying the benefits of sport—getting kids off the couch, away from their PlayStation and onto the playing fields. The best way—the only way—to do this, is to make sure that sport is part of our national curriculum. We must introduce sport into the national curriculum for students. We must give them the opportunity to play sport. Dropouts in participation always start because young kids do not pick up the core fundamental sports skills when they are in primary school or when they are in the early years of high school. Since I have been the minister I have been advocating for sport in schools, and I will continue to do that outside of this parliament.
I have also been an unapologetic supporter of elite sports. Elite sport creates great role models and provides inspiration to Australians young and old. There is no doubt in my mind of the inseparable connection between Australians being on the podium and young Australians participating in sport. I think we have laid the foundation for Australia to continue our incredible achievements at the high performance level. Through the Green and Gold project, the joint initiative between the Australian Institute of Sport, the Australian Olympic Committee and the Australian Paralympic Committee, with the cooperation of the government, sports funding has never been greater. I believe we are now well placed going into London, and I would say to all of our athletes who are heading over there to compete generally: 'Best of luck; every Australian is immensely proud of you and I honestly believe we will have a great games—sorry I could not join you.'
I have also made preserving the integrity of sport a priority during my time as minister. In particular, I believe the next great challenge we face in sport is match fixing. Match fixing and any type of cheating in sport erodes people's confidence in sport. It strikes at the heart of sport. It is one issue where we simply cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. However, just as Australia helped lead the way in the fight against doping in the eighties and nineties, we are again leading the way when it comes to combating match fixing. The Commonwealth has reached agreement with all states and territories to develop nationally consistent criminal laws to ensure that anyone who engages in match fixing is punished. This is a great achievement. It took a great deal of work. I thank all my state sports minister colleagues and all their departments for the effort they have put in place.
But we need to go much further. Sport is international, gambling is international and corruption is international. While it is important that governments, sporting organisations and betting agencies take a stand domestically, at the same time there is an imperative that there is a framework for cooperation internationally. We need an international body similar to WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, that can deal with match fixing, and I will be doing everything possible to urge the government and sporting bodies to achieve that goal.
Finally, I would encourage every senator in this place and all sides of politics not to relegate sport to the backbench. When a sports minister in the future goes to the ERC and sees Penny Wong—or Senator Bernardi on the other side, when eventually he is the sports minister, probably two decades from now—please understand the power of sport and the social benefits that come from it. I have many thankyous, but I start by thanking a group which is extremely important to me, and that is the rank-and-file members of the great Labor Party of New South Wales and the great Labor Party of Australia. These are the people who really go out of their way to help a party they love do so well at every election. They are always out at the polling booths, even when they know in some seats there is no chance of winning. Their dedication is stunning. But it is not just about the machinery of politics—the pamphlets, the postering; it is also about policy. When I was an organiser and party secretary one of my favourite party members was a man named Brian Driscoll. Brian recently passed away. He was from Lockhart, and the Lockhart branch and was an amazing stalwart for the party in Tiger territory, but the one thing I remember most about Brian is that, in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympic Games, there was a change in the way pub licences were issued in New South Wales. Country pubs were losing their licences to the city to make sure the Olympics had enough pubs and drinking places for people. Brian Driscoll took the issue to the party conference. He took the issue to parliament. He took a stand on the issue. He convinced Country Labor members to change the policy, and that is where community pub licences came from. One man, one party member in his late 60s, changed the policy that affected millions of New South Welshman and allowed them to go to their local pub. That is the power of the ALP rank and file. I pay tribute to Brian. I pay tribute to all those party members.
There is never a perfect time to leave politics. All of us have an inner political clock and our political lives do come to an end, often earlier than we anticipate. It is incredibly hard leaving behind a young family to travel so often as a minister and a senator. I have to say that the real test for me was leaving home every Sunday night. I did not want to leave the house; I did not want to get into the car; it was a big test. I think many Australians think that politicians do very little other than go to Canberra to abuse each other. While it is one of the most satisfying careers, all of us in here know the toll it takes on our families and, as a consequence, our personal happiness. My first speech in here reflected a degree of intuitive foresight, I think. I said in my first speech almost four years ago:
The birth of my children has been the most profound and defining moment of my life. I am proud in the knowledge that my greatest achievement now and in the future will always be the development and care of my daughters.
… … …
… what is required is a new definition of success, one that champions the balance of home and work life, because there is no benefit in forging a stellar career if it is at the expense of your children.
When I was promoted to Assistant Treasurer in December, my six-year-old daughter cried. She understood it was going to mean more time away from home. For me, that was a very, very important moment. When I announced my resignation as a minister and a senator I received a huge amount of personal support from friends and colleagues in this chamber but also in the other place. Family is everything, and I think everyone in this chamber understands that. Everyone in this chamber makes sacrifices every day and I hope all Australians understand the sacrifices made by senators and members of the House of Representatives.
I have so many thankyous. I am eternally grateful to the people of New South Wales, who elected me, and I believe I have kept true to my commitments to them and worked for their benefit. I will miss so many people in this place on all sides of the chamber. Today I might start with the Liberals and Nationals. Amazingly, I have a great number of friends on the other side of the chamber. Sometimes I felt I had more friends on that side that on this side. It was probably true! I pay tribute to Senator Williams. Senator, we have worked closely together on a number of different issues in your area. You are an absolutely outstanding senator for the people of north-west New South Wales and I pay tribute to the work you have done. I enjoyed meeting you and I enjoyed your friendship. Thank you. You have a friend in me for life.
I say to Senator Fifield: we started out together on Sky News many years ago. I actually returned to that studio the other morning. It brought back some good memories. I say to you: thank you for your friendship and good luck in the future. Senator Mason, Senator Payne, Senator Cormann, Senator Cash and Senator Kroger and I started the Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect group, and I know your commitment to that cause. It is something that I am totally committed to as well, so thank you for your friendship and support too. Thank you to all the Liberal Party and National Party senators for all the work you do. We disagree on many things and on policy we really disagree, but I understand your commitment. I know you are doing what you believe is in the best interests of the country.
It has been a pleasure working with some of my friends in the Independents. I say to Senator Xenophon in particular: I have really enjoyed working with you. I cannot believe that anyone would have the work rate that you have, especially in a Senate where you held the balance of power. I pay tribute to you and your staff for the work that you have done and I know your heart is in the right place as well. Senator Fielding is not here, but I would say that, similarly, Senator Fielding is also a friend of mine. He was a great football player. His heart was in the right place and he worked very hard for the people of Victoria, so I pay tribute to him as well.
I also have a great deal of respect and time for Senator Bob Brown. While I, again, disagree with many of the policies of the Greens—we come from different parts of progressive politics—I have a great deal of time for the dedication of Senator Brown and a great deal of time for the dedication of all Greens senators. I know how much work you put in and I know the effort you make, particularly Senator Siewert, whom I have worked with closely on Indigenous issues and in the community affairs committee.
I say to my staff, who are in the chamber now: I am so lucky to have had such a wonderful stuff. The hardest thing about leaving and the thing that made me most emotional was having to tell my staff that I was leaving. I say to them that I know they will all go on to bigger and better things because they are one of the most talented groups of people I have worked with. Thank you for the work you have put in. Thank you for the time you have put in and the countless hours. I think staff are sometimes undervalued. That is something I never did and I hope no senator will ever take their staff for granted. I thank my chief of staff Alison Hill, my former chief of staff Bridget Whelan, Sharon Carney, Leo Damis, Katie Ford, David Latham, Audrey Maag, Josh McIntosh, Anda Mednis, Clare Nairn, Sean Sammon, David Sykes, Bryce Wilson, Peter Bentley, Andrew Downes, Glenn McCrea, Julie Sibraa, Elena Forato, Kerrie Hall and Frank Lowah. I also thank all the departments I have worked with. People forget the great work of all the departments and the Public Service and their dedication. I have already put on record those names, but I really do appreciate the support I have received from the Australian Public Service. Their dedication should never be undervalued or underestimated in this place.
I have worked with some amazing stakeholders: Andrew Forrest; John Coates, who is my good friend, and the team of the AOC; Greg Hartung from the Australian Paralympic Committee; Malcolm Speed; and all the other CEOs and sporting administrators. To the AIS and the Australian Sports Commission: there is no better sporting group or body in the world than the AIS and ASC, and we are world renowned for those organisations.
To my friends and stakeholders—in the homelessness area, Tony Nicholson and Narelle Clay; in the Indigenous area, Andrew Penfold and Natalie Walker; the team at AIMSC, Michael McLeod and Smiley Johnstone; Leah Armstrong from Reconciliation Australia; Danny Lester and Dick Estens from the AES; and Jack Manning Bancroft—thank you all for your honest advice and for working with me on policies that help Australians. A special thankyou to my very good friend, Warwick Smith, for being the chair of the Australian Sports Commission. He has been an outstanding chair of that commission and has done a huge amount in governance and turning that institution around. When we get a very, very good result in London, a lot of the credit can go to Warwick.
While I have been the Manager of Government Business in the Senate for a short time, I am eternally grateful for the skilful assistance of the Clerk Rosemary Laing and the staff of the Senate, Maureen, Angie and Josh, in particular. They are an invaluable resource for the chamber. I also thank, of course, all the staff of the Senate and all the staff of the parliament, particularly my friends from Security who I regularly catch up with and talk to.
My thanks also go to the Senate PLO, John Paraskevopoulos. His assistance in getting government legislation through the chamber has been appreciated. I thank my colleague Senator Evans for all his great advice and wisdom. I thank the whip Senator McEwen and her staff for keeping the government on track in this place. To my own parliamentary colleagues, thank you for your friendship and for working with me first as a senator and then as a minister. I have many friends on this side and you will always be my friends, in particular to Senator Sterle, my alter ego Senator Conroy and of course Senator Kate Lundy; thank you for your deep friendship. Of course, Senator Thistlethwaite I have worked with in the past.
Finally, and most importantly, my thanks goes to my family—to my wife, Kelli, to my daughters, Alexandra and Charlotte—for their love, for their support, for their patience when I am away from home, and for their patience when I am at home. I said in my first speech:
If you asked me what would be the guiding principles for my time in this chamber, the answer is simple. As a senator, my children and the welfare of all our children would be my compass.
I can say today with confidence that I have fulfilled that commitment. Thank you.
by leave—I congratulate Senator Arbib for a great speech and it does great justice to his time in the Senate and to his passions. I have worked with Mark since he came into the Senate. While I am terribly regretful that he is leaving, I understand very much his reasons. He has made an enormous contribution to the parliament and to the government in his various portfolios. I think his speech today highlighted the issues that have motivated him.
What we should take from today's contribution from Mark is that it actually challenges the public persona that many in the media try to create about Mark Arbib. The speech today reinforced the fact—and all his colleagues understand—of his great passion for issues, his great passion for Indigenous people, for those with disability and for the homeless. His commitment to those issues and those people has been profound, and he has worked away at trying to make the conditions for those people, for whom he has had some responsibility, better. He has done that in a very dedicated and passionate way. That is a side of him that is not broadly understood and, unfortunately, not represented well in some of the public commentary. His commitment to programs like KickStart, which saw many apprentices helped during the global financial crisis and his commitment, which he talked about, to the Learn Earn Legend! program for Indigenous young people have been exemplary, and he has made a huge contribution to the Labor Party.
I also note his long service as assistant general secretary and general secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party. There is much commentary in the press that somehow seeks to denigrate the role of party officials. Party officials from all parties play an important role in our democracy these days. Parties are a central part of the way our democracy operates and the officials are important to that process. I know Mark was an outstanding general secretary of the New South Wales branch and made a huge contribution in his period there as well to the success of our party and the New South Wales branch in particular.
I would also like to acknowledge the fact that he has provided strong leadership on social issues inside the Labor Party. Despite his association with a rather conservative wing of the Labor Party, he has shown really strong leadership in a way that has often surprised people on issues such as gay marriage. In a whole range of ways his talk about work and family balance has been a key defining element of his engagement in politics. I pay great respect to him for the constancy of that contribution. I think Mark has suffered from the fact that the public portrayal of him—the public characterisation of him—actually bears no resembles to the real man. As I said, his speech today told you a lot more about Mark Arbib than much of what you will read in the papers. His thoughtfulness and his measured and persistent pursuit of Labor policy—of good public policy—has been a real mark of him and a real mark of his time here.
As he referred to, I know that there has been some commentary about why he resigned. All I can say is that the comments Mark made on his retirement reflect conversations I have had with him over the last two or three years. They reflect the fact that he was feeling the stress of balancing work and family. His commitment to his family was paramount in his mind, and he was under the same pressures that we all suffer about balancing those two commitments. I have also always known him to put the interests of the Labor Party first in the way that he engages inside the party. I think that his decision to resign reflects those two priorities: those of his family and what he sees as the best interests of the party.
While I did not agree with his decision, that is partly motivated by self-interest: Mark was an important member of our team and someone I did not want to lose. We had plans for him to play a leading role for the Labor Party in the Senate for many years to come. But I understand the reasons for his decision, and accept them.
Can I just say, though, that this is not an obituary! Mark is actually a young man, and probably the time to leave the Senate is when you are young enough to have another career—some of us run out of options as we age! Mark has many options because he has many abilities and many interests, and I am sure that he will succeed in whatever he does following his time in the Senate, although I am not sure that I can approve of running marathons as being one of his priorities. I just do not get that, I am afraid. No-one has accused me of showing any interest in running marathons! But I wish him well in that endeavour as well.
Finally, as Senator Fierravanti-Wells and others have pointed out, the suggestion that Mark Arbib is a faceless man is, of course, a nonsense. But he does have an alias: his close friends call him Freddie because, of course, he was a star of Home and Away, and his character was Freddie. Someone showed me the footage today, it is on YouTube—
Yes! I actually watched the whole scene; the hand movements—the guy was a natural! And I just do not understand why he did not get a call from Hollywood! Why did it not develop for him? Method acting was clearly his calling. But when that career did not take off I am happy to say that he chose a career in politics.
I know that others want to speak, and that we are short of time, so I say to Mark: thank you very much for your contribution. If I had known that it was going to have this impact I would not have supported you becoming Manager of Government Business. I thought that it was a good decision at the time, but the fact that it drove you over the edge is a regret of mine. But best of luck for the future from all your colleagues. We have appreciated your contribution, and we look forward to watching whatever you do in the future with great admiration. All the best.
by leave—As a marathon runner, Senator Arbib has returned a most impressive result with his sprint in the Senate: from backbencher to parliamentary secretary to minister to Manager of Government Business and the finish line, all in less than four years. It took me well over double that time, but I would argue that there was more talent in my way. But, along the way, Senator Arbib became instantly recognisable as Labor's most faceless man. By engineering the timing of his own exit from the Senate he has pulled off the ultimate feat for a faceless man.
From the coalition's perspective, Senator Arbib's arrival in the Senate in 2008 was marginally welcome as it was at the expense of a Greens senator. But given the Green-Labor alliance after the 2010 election, it really makes little difference. Shortly after the senator's arrival, I recall receiving from an attendant in the chamber a folder headed 'Coalition quotes'. I worked my way through the quotes during another boring question time, but as I started reading I realised that they were quotes that could be classified as not necessarily helpful to the cause of the coalition. Finally, the penny dropped: chances were it was a folder meant for Senator Arbib not Senator Abetz. I wonder how many documents destined for me ended up with Senator Arbib? Alas, any hope that my dining room bills might have ended up with Senator Arbib were forlorn.
We all come into this place with varied backgrounds. Senator Arbib brought with him a skill which will come as a surprise to many, not only on this side but also on his side. I am sure Mr Rudd and his backers will be bemused to learn that one of the senator's skills is that of lifesaver. Possibly his lifesaving skills were swamped in June 2010 by his other skill set, that of a very capable political operative.
Another skill the senator has is as a cook. Rumour has it that books are not his speciality: for the record, he was with the liquor trades and transport workers, not the HSU—although, he has a fearsome reputation, rightly or wrongly, as a successful fundraiser.
A would-be replacement of Senator Arbib's is on record as saying that he is 'one of the best campaigners in the business.' Just in case you do not know, that was said by Bob Carr. On that basis alone, we will not miss him. He was a very good campaigner.
One's first speech is often an insight. Senator Arbib's was no different. Family and Indigenous welfare both were given generous time and sensitive treatment. His love of family spoke for itself. On Indigenous welfare he said:
However, to achieve real results Indigenous welfare must be reconsidered. The Indigenous welfare model of the past has failed by inadvertently creating a cycle of dependence and despondency resulting in disincentives to Indigenous job seekers. If we are serious about breaking the cycle we must provide real incentives to break through these structural barriers. It is a big task, but with the community united and working to a common goal it is possible. Bridging the gap on Indigenous inequality is something I feel deeply about, and today and in the future I commit myself to playing a role in meeting this goal.
We on this side also note his position as an ambassador of the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation. His short but genuine input in matters Indigenous deserves recognition and saluting, and we do so.
His reputation as a numbers man took a bit of a hit with the World Cup but was handsomely restored just last Monday. Whilst on matters sport, can I also recognise the minister's attempts with me to resolve matters Taekwondo. My interactions with his office were always professional and courteous.
This is Labor's day to farewell one of their faithful servants and so I will not delay. Suffice to say, on behalf of all the coalition, we wish Senator Arbib and his family all the best for the future.
by leave—I too join in to unambiguously wish Senator Arbib all the very best. We were in Senate school together just 3½ years ago. I know he came to this place with a fearsome reputation, but I found him a bit of a pussycat really to deal with. He was always incredibly decent to deal with. He kept his word with me. He worked with me very constructively on a whole range of issues. It says something about the man that during a debate a year or two ago I was berating the government for not doing enough for asbestos victims and not understanding the suffering of asbestos victims. Senator Arbib was the minister with carriage of the bill and he got up and said, 'I do know a little bit about asbestos, because my father died of an asbestos related disease.' He said it quietly and with enormous dignity. He could have made a real point to dress me down, but he did not. That says something about his dignity.
I pay tribute to his work on homelessness, Indigenous employment and education. There is no question about his genuineness in the work he has done. These will be his lasting legacies. I am sure that what he has put in place will build momentum. On an issue dear to my heart, the impact of gambling on match-fixing and corruption in sport, I think the best testament, the best credit, comes from sports administrators who say that in the last few months Senator Arbib has gone a long way in dealing with issues of match-fixing. They have been extremely impressed with Senator Arbib as Minister for Sport in dealing with this pernicious issue of match-fixing. I pay tribute to him on that and I hope that his successor will deal with those reforms.
I finish by repeating something I said in the media a year ago. It may cause some rancour amongst some of my colleagues, but I meant it when I said it a year ago and I mean it now. I said I had heard about how Senator Arbib was a hard political operator, and I suppose he is one of the hard men of politics, but he is also like a one-man Greek chorus. He is a person who has had to tell the hard, unpalatable truths and I think he has been unfairly maligned because of this. I wondered aloud back then and I wonder now: if the Liberal Party had a Mark Arbib, who knows this may have been the second term of a Costello government. I wish Mark Arbib all the very best.
by leave—Let me add a few words while Senator Arbib is in the chamber. My colleague Senator Hanson-Young will follow. We have not had a great deal of intercommunication in political life, but after Senator Arbib came to this chamber I have to return the compliment. It has been nothing but a pleasant working relationship, and it has been friendly and constructive on all occasions. I recollect in particular speaking to Senator Arbib about the potential for a great healing outcome in the Tasmanian forests issue, which would be a win-win for the forest industry, the forests, environmentalists and the Tasmanian community. There is quite a way to go there, but what I can say is that he was very constructive in helping me to speak to other ministers about this potential. This was well nigh on two years ago now. He had no reason to be involved and he had no reason to take up a Tasmanian issue, but he did because he could see the merits in it.
I also note Senator Arbib's reason for wanting to spend more time with his family. I am totally on side with that. Let me say, as an observer of many people in this chamber and elsewhere in politics, that it is very, very tough on families. That particular connection with kids gets bulldozed by the demands of politics, media, community—everything that is involved with it. There is all sorts of advice about how to overcome that, but the only way ultimately of overcoming it is by not being here. I can sympathise a great deal with Senator Arbib on that. I congratulate him for his contribution to this chamber and to government in the federal arena. Through you, Mr President, I wish Senator Arbib a great, long and productive life and many happy returns for this decision.
I want to add a few remarks of my own of good wishes to Senator Arbib. It is a sad occasion when a very talented man, at the young age of only 40, brings down the curtain on a political career which has already been a very substantial career both in organisational affairs and as a senator and minister—and, had he chosen to stay, would no doubt one day have been a member of a Labor cabinet in the, I would hope, very distant future.
Senator Arbib came to this place less than four years ago with a ferocious—even demonic—reputation. When one encounters for the first time someone whose reputation precedes him like that, one feels almost cheated to discover that he actually turned out to be a very nice fellow. One wishes one's political opponents were as wicked as their reputation suggests—but I hasten to add that I am sure that was a reputation conferred upon you by some in the Labor Party, Senator Arbib—but, in my dealings with Senator Mark Arbib, I have always found him an extremely agreeable and pleasant person.
We have not had a lot to do with one another, although we are the two people in the Senate who share the joy of having held the best job in Australia. I did get to know him a little better when, earlier this year, we travelled to Israel. As is the nature of parliamentary visits overseas, the party barricades come down and one gets to talking, and we found ourselves in enthusiastic agreement about many things. We found ourselves in enthusiastic agreement about Israel. We found ourselves in enthusiastic agreement about the US alliance—although I suspect Senator Arbib was rather closer to the Americans than I was. But, in particular, we found ourselves in more than enthusiastic agreement about the Australian Greens.
When Senator Arbib made his astonishing announcement on Monday afternoon that he was going to resign shortly from the Senate and from the ministry, I could barely believe it. I could in particular barely believe that a minister for sport would choose to resign less than four months from the Olympic Games. Senator Arbib, you have made a very great sacrifice indeed for your family, which we all respect.
Inevitably, because of the disobliging names which some in the Labor Party have conferred upon him, Senator Arbib became almost emblematic of the 'faceless man'. But it had this benefit for you Senator Arbib: some political cartoonists took to drawing you without face. Indeed, at least the implication was that the person depicted in the political cartoon was you. But that had the benefit that, unlike the rest of us, the political cartoonists did not have the opportunity, through the self-denying ordinance, to dwell on the less than classical features which all of us in politics share.
Your role in the famous events of 23 and 24 June 2010 has become the stuff of legend and will no doubt be written about for as long as Australian political history is written about. The internal affairs of the Australian Labor Party are none of my business, but of you I am sure it can be said that you have always acted by your best lights and in the best interests, as you saw them, of the Australian Labor Party. When you were involved in those events I was reminded of a remark by Winston Churchill about leadership. It is a reasonably well-known remark but let me remind you of it. He said of a leader:
If he trips he must be sustained. If he make mistakes, they must be covered. If he sleeps, he must not be wantonly disturbed. If he is no good, he must be pole-axed.
That is the judgment that you came to about the former Prime Minister. I have no doubt that you did so because in good faith you had reached that sorry conclusion and that you acted as you did in what you saw—and those who collaborated with you acted as they did in what they saw—to be in the best interests of the Australian Labor Party.
Let me conclude on this note, Senator Arbib: you have been a fierce partisan, and I admire that. I am always deeply suspicious of those who, in a weasel-like way, implore us to be bipartisan, because what that is code for is that we pretend that legitimate differences do not exist. Our democratic process depends upon there being the free and robust expression of contending points of view. And when I see in a political opponent a fierce and committed partisan I admire that because our system depends upon people being partisans for the causes in which they believe. As a person who has served your cause, your party, in the effective and sincere way you have, you have contributed to that process in an important way, and for that I will always admire you. I have enjoyed our brief association and I wish you all the best for the future.
I rise briefly to add my congratulations to Senator Arbib for getting out of the mad house. Senator Arbib and I, just like Senator Xenophon, were part of the class of 08. When we came in here together, Senator Arbib, I did not think that you would be leaving before the rest of us. I actually thought that you would be one of these blokes who stuck around forever. Thankfully you are a bit wiser than that—that you have other things to take on and other challenges that await you.
I have always had a lot of respect for Senator Arbib's commitment to family life and to his children, his daughters. I have a young daughter and we have often shared laughs about what our kids have been up to lately and the next cheeky adventures that they are into. In this place, I think that is such an important element of the lives that we live. When we do leave our families a lot of the time, it is important to know that the rest of us are all thinking about what we would be doing if we were not here. My daughter has upset the security guards in this place, too, but it happened that we got a bit more coverage than perhaps you did on that night—and I am sure you are probably thankful for that. I particularly want to pay credit to Senator Arbib for his commitment to equal marriage. He was one of the first on the other side of the chamber to raise his voice on this publicly. I think that went a long way to pushing this issue onto the political stage, bringing the Labor Party along with him. It was very important. I am sad that Senator Arbib is not going to be able to vote on that legislation; obviously, it was important to you. Commitment to paid parental leave is another issue that Senator Arbib has spoken about.
As Senator Bob Brown said, all of my colleagues in the Greens have always had very positive dealings with Senator Arbib. We have said how pleasant it was to be able to work with him in whatever capacity. I wish Senator Arbib good luck. I am not sure you are going to make ironman of the year, but I wish you good luck in your endeavours and into the future.
It is a pleasure to add my comments to those that have been made already in recognition of Senator Arbib's contribution to the federal parliament. I remember his first speech. I sat here listening and was impressed, but a couple of things made me turn around and look. One of them was his quoting of Moore's Law. Another was his statements recognising that information technology and new technologies are the platform for future growth and the kind of investment we need in this country to help our economy develop and diversify in the 21st century. The other thing—and no-one will be surprised at this—was his reference right at the end of his speech to sport. He evoked the characterisation of the Australian hero as being the mums and dads who sustain our sporting clubs through their commitment to their children and their volunteer effort, and he likened them to our Olympic heroes.
These sentiments struck a chord with me. When you look at the issues that Senator Arbib committed to in his first speech in this place, you can see that, systematically, he has made a substantial contribution to each and every one of them. There was some mention of those efforts and those contributions, and I would like to mention a couple as well. First is the Apprenticeship Kickstart program, which gave so many young people an opportunity for employment where there could have been none. It was an extraordinary period in the global financial crisis, and federal Labor was doing everything to save jobs to keep our economy on the rails. We did this with enormous success, now recognised around the world, with our Treasurer having been cited as the world's best finance minister for his leadership and guidance through that difficult period.
It is programs like Apprenticeship Kickstart that made surviving the GFC very real this country. I believe that the younger people that have benefited from that program have a chance at a life that they would otherwise not have had. Coming to this as a young person who left school at the age of 16 and was given my chance in the building industry—although not quite lucky enough to land an apprenticeship, I did work as a labourer for some years—I know that gave me my whole life. It gave me the opportunities I subsequently experienced, and I understand the importance of Apprenticeship Kickstart in difficult economic times. I would like to take this opportunity to thank and acknowledge Senator Arbib for his vision, foresight and effort in putting that into place.
I would also like to acknowledge his work in the sports portfolio. I am also very passionate about sport, and there is nothing more gratifying than being part of a government with a sports minister who is doing a fantastic job and, most importantly—and I heard these words again today—understands that sport is far more than the sum of its parts. It is an area of social policy and is often the glue in communities where none other exists. It is often the link between generations of families and across extended families. It is one thing that can bind us. If you have a look at how people choose to spend their personal time and associate themselves with their given team, it is more often than not what gives them a sense of identity, again perhaps when nothing else does.
I also acknowledge the role that sport plays in my portfolio of multicultural affairs by providing a platform for people newly arrived in Australia, be they migrants, humanitarian entrants or refugees. Sport is often the place where they make their first friend. They make friends for life, and sport becomes the platform for developing a sense of self and a sense of belonging in their new home of Australia. All of these things are important. Senator Arbib is right in that they are worthy of recognition beyond that which people traditionally associate with the sports portfolio. Again, I take this opportunity to commend Senator Arbib for his devotion to the good public policy of sports and recreation in Australia.
I would like to say a few personal things as well. Senator Arbib plays a mean game of chess. Three hours and eight minutes is an extraordinary time for running a marathon, and I wish you all the best with your upcoming ironman commitment. It demonstrates that Senator Arbib is a man of many talents, and no small physical talent as well. When he turns his mind to something, he is an exceptional performer. We got to know each other a bit playing soccer, although he has way more talent than I will ever have. It shows the wonderful character and spirit of the federal parliament that sport in itself has become a platform where friendships are made and time is spent together. I think this is a wonderful opportunity for so many colleagues to get together through the parliamentary organisation and informal sports.
Finally, I thank Senator Arbib for his friendship. I have had a wonderful time seeing your contribution. While I knew your reputation before you came here, I only met you on your first day here, when you gave your first speech, which had such an impact on me. Thank you for your friendship. You will be sorely missed. We all have a duty to honour the legacy you have left with the policy achievements you made as a minister across a range of portfolios. I, for one, undertake to do that.
I first came to awareness of Senator Arbib before he entered the Senate. Like most people on this side of the chamber, that awareness came through newspaper references to the then general secretary of the New South Wales ALP as a powerbroker. Those of us who have been in politics for a while know that those described as powerbrokers are seldom as omnipotent as their reputations, desired or not, would have one believe. So-called powerbrokers are often fitted up for deeds not of their doing, and credited with influence and success beyond the reality. So often the truth lies between those two points, and I suspect that Senator Arbib may well have had this experience over his time in the public eye.
As Senator Arbib mentioned, he and I first crossed swords during the 2007 election campaign. We spent most Saturday afternoons in Sky TV studios in different cities. I suspect the only people watching us were those at the respective campaign headquarters, but we had a good time anyway. Subsequently, we spent every Monday morning together on Sky TV for the best part of a year, sparring. Mark was promoted rapidly, and once he became a minister he abandoned me. I felt a little bereft at the time, but I was very pleased that we were reunited when Senator Arbib was appointed manager of government business, brief though that stint has been. I will quote Yes, Minister, and please do not take this the wrong way. In the words of Jim Hacker, in the role of manager of government business, Senator Arbib has been 'a pleasure to deal with'. Do not take that the wrong way, and I hope it continues in the future.
Whether you agree or disagree with the nature and the substance of Senator Arbib's contribution to public life, it cannot be argued that he is and has been anything other than an integral and important figure in this government. For the sake of history, he has a share in both the successes and the failures of this government, but there is no doubt that he has made a significant, a serious and a worthy contribution in sport, in Indigenous affairs and on the issue of homelessness. There is one very positive point for Senator Arbib leaving now, as he does, and that is that he will never serve a day in opposition. There are many positive things about leaving this place, and his timing, and that is certainly one of them.
In this place and in the wider community in general there is often denigration of those who hear the political calling early in their professional lives. I, for one, am someone who does not share that view, possibly for the reason that I have spent 24 years working in full-time professional politics. A political calling early in one's professional life is a noble thing. I might argue that perhaps there are a few too many people on the other side who have heard that calling too early, but it is indeed a noble calling and I acknowledge that. Senator Arbib has pursued what he has thought to be good politics, good policy and good government. We may disagree as to what constitutes good politics, good policy and good government, but I have no doubt that Senator Arbib has always pursued what he thought that to be.
I am someone who firmly believes that those who have served in public life are entitled to make a contribution and earn a living in their post-political lives. We are in a partisan environment and we fight hard. We play hard and we play to win, but once someone leaves this place they are entitled to pursue their own endeavours. I guess the level of attention that they receive beyond these walls is partly a function of whether they continue to engage in the partisan fray. I wish Senator Arbib and his family well. He has served his state, he has served his party and he has served the nation, and that should be recognised.
It is my great pleasure to rise and wish Senator Arbib and his family very well for his and their future. I will resist the temptation to provide commentary on Senator Arbib's analysis of the government's performance on matters of economic and fiscal policy—today is not the occasion for that—except to observe that, listening to his speech to us this afternoon, in which with great passion he advocated across a whole range of policy issues, it is really very hard to understand why it is that he is leaving.
I have always found Senator Arbib to be someone who argued strongly, passionately and with a great sense of humour for the things that he believed in. He has given us two reasons as to why he is leaving and, as somebody who also operates in the broader context of organisational politics, I have to say that if Senator Arbib has to leave to help healing within the Labor Party because of a decision he made which he felt was right at the time for the Labor Party and for the country then that is a very high price to pay.
All of us know, though, that the price that our families pay and the price paid by the people we leave behind when we come to this place is a very high price indeed. Given the extent to which he articulated his care for his family as the reason he found it too hard to stay, we all have a great amount of sympathy for that. Like Senator Arbib I find it very hard, and I am sure that all of us find it very hard on Sunday afternoons to leave our loved ones behind and come here to do what we think is the right thing for our country.
Senator Arbib and I found ourselves on opposite sides in two portfolio areas over the past three years, first in employment participation in the lead-up to the last election and now, for a somewhat shorter period, in the Assistant Treasurer portfolio. While we had some spirited debates on policy matters, particularly in the employment participation portfolio, our interactions were always very courteous, very professional and very friendly. It is true; he is truly a nice guy. When you look at the smiling face of this faceless man it is very hard to imagine that this is the hard man of Labor Party politics. It is very hard to imagine that he rose to be the tough, hard-nosed, most senior factional operator in the toughest Labor faction of them all, the New South Wales Labor Right, but there it is. As Senator Brandis said before, Senator Arbib has had a very distinguished and very senior career both in organisational politics and in our national parliament. It is hard to understand why somebody so young and with so much promise would leave so early, but having made the decision we wish him all the very best for his future. We wish him and his family all the best.
Given the fearsome reputation that Senator Arbib has developed in public, I put my name down on the list to speak because I did not think there would be that many people actually speaking in praise of him. Clearly I was wrong. I wanted to speak because my engagement with Senator Arbib has found him vastly different from what has been represented to the public or in the media. My engagement with him has been with a gentleman. It has been with a man who has had genuine concern for his portfolio and a very clear and deep love for his family. Quite frankly, I have dealt with a man I consider of great integrity, at least from my personal dealings. Your colleagues on the other side may indeed have different views on that, Senator Arbib.
We have a number of things in common, and Mark knows some of them. I am going to share a couple that perhaps he does know about. The first is that what our enemies say about us cannot be relied on to be factual and correct. I know you agree with that. At least, Senator Arbib, I can say that in my case that is exactly the truth.
Going back to that fearsome reputation, I remember when Senator Arbib first started here in the Senate he was in what is now known as my corridor, and it has never been busier. I have never seen quite the procession of ALP luminaries that were left waiting in the corridor for an audience with 'the great man' who could shape their destinies. It was a very peaceful place after you left, Mark, which we were all grateful for.
Senator Cormann touched on the fact that Senator Arbib has been characterised as a faceless man. I know he tried to label me with that tag yesterday.
I know you withdrew. It would have only enhanced my reputation had you not withdrawn, Senator Arbib. Despite your very brief television acting career, which is something that we do have in common—and I will tell you about that privately afterwards—I would merely say that we probably both have a face for radio, and leave it at that.
Mark, your time here has been all too brief, and I say that genuinely because you are one of the people who has made an impact in this place. You have been very effective within your party in shaping how your party has developed, for good and for bad. You have also been very effective in your portfolios and you have taken them really seriously. In our conversations we have talked about a number of things, but we both have a passion for sport and I know the sporting bodies right around the country, both elite and grassroots sport, really appreciated you being their sports minister because they told me so. They said, 'Mark Arbib's not a bad fellow.' That is what I said, actually—that was as good as it got! No, they said you are a good sports minister. You have been a good sports minister, and sport appreciated it, so if you follow that path later on I know you will do a great job.
I will miss the engagement in question time—not that I interject in question time, of course, Mr President! It was always an effort to try and find a chink in that armour to get under your skin, Mark. Maybe once or twice I managed to do it, but you shrugged it off with good grace. You always laughed and you always had a smile. That was the best thing about it: you took your business here really seriously but you never took yourself too seriously, from our perspective. I admire that and I really appreciate it.
I wish you all the best, whatever you do. I hope you get to spend a lot more time with your family. I hope they are happy to have you home. Maybe you will want to make a comeback here—after four years or so they might want you to make a comeback, Mark, you never know! Honestly, I wish you every success. I thank you for your contribution to the parliament. We have had lots of arguments over many things but we share many things in common as well, and a commitment to the betterment of Australia. Good luck!
It is with pleasure I rise to say a few words about Senator Arbib. We come from the class of 2008. I remember the first time that Mark came up to speak to me and he said, 'Johnno Johnson sends his regards.' Johnno Johnson is one of those old Labor stalwarts and a very decent man.
There are just a few things I would like to say about Mark. When I got onto a Senate inquiry on a health issue I was amazed to find that the average lifespan of a man at Wilcannia was just 33 years. I thought: where else in the world would you find men with an average life span of 33 years? Would it be worse in Ethiopia? I do not think you could find a country in the world where it would be worse. I spoke to Senator Arbib and said, 'Can we do something about this?' He did not hesitate to hop in a plane and go out to Wilcannia and try to address the issues there. Wilcannia has picked up and is very proud that last year it was second in the Tidy Towns awards for small towns. That says pride is returning there. There is a lot of work still to do, but Mark did not hesitate.
Can I wish your staff well. I hope they are retained for employment, and those that are not I hope get employed soon. Bryce Wilson has been very good to me—except on one day. We went to the cricket practice nets on a Saturday and he bowled like a champion. Next day we were playing against the press and he shot them all over the place like a machine-gun and I was wicket keeping. I couldn't walk for three days after that! I thought: you're a good man, Bryce, but you're a bit inconsistent; if you'd joined the National Party down at Wagga Wagga you could have been more consistent. Senator Arbib, your staff are very good and you can be very proud of them.
I note, Senator Arbib, you just joined the riders on the hill. You got all the equipment handed over to you and now you are doing a bolt! My chief of staff, Greg, just brought that to my attention. I was shocked when I heard of your resignation on Monday. I thought: this can't be right. Senator Fierravanti-Wells was making a speech in the chamber and Senator Brandis walked in with a bit of paper and said, 'Senator Arbib has resigned from the Senate.' I thought: why—he's younger than us old ones here? But when people say to me, 'What's it like being a senator?' I say, 'I'm very glad my children have grown up, because if you have young children you rarely see them.' So I understand. But, Mark, what can I say? You are going too quick. You should have hung around for a while. I think you are taking one for the team. We wish you well. To Kelli, Alexandra and Charlotte: all the best.
I made my valedictory contribution yesterday—I got in early, Senator Arbib. I note your indication, Minister, that you are not going back to Summer Bay, but as a memento I am going to give you a copy of this photograph of you in Home and Away. I am really pleased that you will forevermore be remembered as Freddie Hudson!
On a more serious note, I recognise that at times, Senator, our exchanges have been tense. But, as someone who understands factional politics, I have always respected your role as a factional warrior of the New South Wales Right. Delivering hard messages does not always win you friends—I understand that well. When all else fails and you have to deliver the difficult messages, you always lose some political skin. You have certainly done that over the years, Mark.
In your press conference the other evening you made some comments about factions. I agree with you that factions are an effective management tool: they keep order and make organisational matters easier. They are a fact of life in so many areas—in community life, on boards, and in all sorts of other areas. Regrettably, when they are referred to in political life, they take on a different dimension, but for your opinion about factions I cannot fault your reasoning; I agree with you.
Coming as I do from New South Wales, I understand that you have sought to do what you have done professionally, believing that what you were doing was in the best interests of your tribe, the New South Wales Right. As your mentor Richo said, 'The real enemy is the Left, and every so often we take time to fight the conservatives.' I am sure that you and I can share in the sentiment behind that remark.
I wish you well. No doubt we shall see you in the next phase of your life, whatever it may be.
I too rise to pay tribute to Senator Arbib. Senator Arbib, I will be a little bit cheeky and say to you: you always remember your first. The reason I say that is I, like you, am one of the class of 2008, and tonight is a significant night for our class: you are the first of our class to depart the Australian Senate. Based on the statements that you have made, however, you are departing on your own terms and in your own time. I think we all know as senators that that is the greatest gift that a politician can give himself or herself, and for that I congratulate you.
Mark, throughout your time in the Senate you have worked diligently and with great distinction. I listened carefully tonight to your valedictory speech, in the course of which you referred to your maiden speech and to the issues that you raised then. There is no doubt about the fact that, in the 3½ years in which you have been in this place, you have pursued the issues which you yourself put on the agenda when you first stood in this place and you have pursued them with passion. For that I give you great credit.
I echo the statements of Senator Brandis and so many on this side that you were a tough opponent; you were not afraid to play hard or to put some blood on the floor. Quite frankly I would expect nothing less from a good opponent in politics. You were without a doubt a worthy opponent. Your reputation—and you do have this reputation—is as a hard man of politics, and I think that deep down we all envy you for that reputation. You were however in all of my dealings with you an absolute gentleman.
Above all what I like about you is that you understand numbers. You understand the currency of politics, and for that you have my utmost respect. Whilst your retirement will be a gain to your wife and to your children, it will be a loss to both sides in this place and in particular to the Labor Party, because you would have made a very, very good cabinet minister. As the first of 2008 to leave this place, please go with my very best wishes.
I associate myself with all those positive comments, in particular those on two issues of great importance: homelessness and sport. It is not about how long you are in this place; it is about whether you leave your footprint, and Mark has done that.
I now ask leave to incorporate a speech on behalf of Senator Feeney.
The speech read as follows—
Like all Senators on this side of the Chamber, I was surprised and saddened to learn of Senator Mark Arbib's decision to resign as a minister and to leave the Senate. Many people here to talk about putting their families first, but when the crunch comes they actually put their careers and their ambition first. Senator Arbib has decided that being a husband and father is more important than being a politician, and he deserves our respect for that choice.
Senator Arbib and I came into the Senate together in July 2008. It's hard to believe that was less than four years ago. In that time he has had a meteoric career: a parliamentary secretary in February 2009, a minister in June 2009, Assistant Treasurer last December. He is obviously a man of great ability, great energy, great commitment and great passion.
In a very short period of time, Senator Arbib has made a powerful impact on Australian politics, particularly in the policy areas he feels strongly about, such as employment, social inclusion, youth affairs and Indigenous affairs. As Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development and as Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness, he showed himself to be a politician who really cares about the people who send us—and by us I mean Senators on this side of the chamber—to Parliament: the working families of Australia.
But although Senator Arbib was only 37 when he was elected to the Senate, he had already had a substantial political career, and it's that career that I want to say something about. He was President of NSW Young Labor in 1995, when he was 24. He became a State Organiser in 1996, Assistant General Secretary in 1999 and General Secretary of the NSW ALP in 2004. He was also a member of the ALP National Executive from 2004.
In those days he was what is generally known as a "machine man". This is a species to which I myself, as a former state secretary and campaign director, also belong, and I'm proud to do so. No political party can win elections without capable organisers, state secretaries or campaign directors. That's as true for the parties opposite as it is for my party. Our former colleague Senator Nick Minchin, for example, a highly respected former state and federal director of the Liberal Party, is a political professional to his fingertips, and so is Senator Arbib.
We've seen and heard a lot of commentary about the faceless men in recent weeks, and Senator Arbib and I have figured prominently in this coverage. In relation to Senator Arbib, at any rate, much of this commentary has been singularly ill-informed. Far from being faceless, he has been one of the most prominent people in Australian politics since 2007. He has always understood that the point of party organisation is to win elections, and the point of winning elections is to put in place good Labor policy. It was thanks to the work of Senator Arbib and many others like him that Labor won government in 2007 and retained it in 2010. That's why it was so fitting that Senator Arbib as a minister was able to put in place some of the policy goals he cares so strongly about.
I greatly regret that Senator Arbib has decided to leave politics. He's been a good friend and a good colleague, and a great contributor to the work of this government. His departure is a loss to the Labor Party, to the government and to the Senate. But I don't believe for a minute that Senator Arbib's talents will be lost to Australian public life for long. At 40, he has many years of active life ahead of him to make further contributions to his country. Whatever field he chooses to devote his great abilities to, I'm sure he will excel. I wish him and Kelli and their family all the best for the future.
It befalls me to wrap up this series of speeches. I think it has been very impressive indeed. I do not intend to canvass all the issues, Mark; you and I have known each other for a long time. I am very proud of what you have done in putting your family first. It is such a difficult decision to take, and it is not really understood how your children and your wife miss your company and your input to their lives. I admire you for what you have done, I admire what you have done in politics, I associate myself with all the other comments and I wish you all the best in the future.