Senate debates

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Parliamentary Representation


3:30 pm

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to give my last speech in the Senate. Firstly, thank you to the opposition and the crossbenchers for the indulgence. I also express my condolences to the families of former Senator Judith Adams and former Deputy Prime Minister Lionel Bowen. My retirement from the Senate is effective from 1 June. Some are puzzled by the date, but I am going out in style: I am chair of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee for the last four days of May, hence the date of 1 June.

My reasons for retiring are an extension of the reasons I gave when I announced my retirement as a minister. Fundamentally, they are a combination of length of service—it will be 21 years, 11 months and one day, and 86 estimates hearings—age and having three young children. After reflection over these last few months, there are other challenges that I do want to carry out in my working life. I have spent two-thirds of my adult working life in this chamber; I want to spend, hopefully, at least another 10 years in other areas. As I also said when I announced my retirement as a minister, there is a time for renewal and, in most circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that renewal in the context of a new senator is appropriate: a new Labor senator for my great state of Tasmania. I also believe that if you have the opportunity to make the decision yourself—and so many of us in politics do not get to make the decision ourselves—it is best to take it.

I want to go through some thankyous and I am sorry I cannot mention everyone. I would like to start by thanking my staff for their dedication and support; you cannot do the job without good, effective and loyal staff: Sally, Renai, Kristy, Shane, Lynette, Peter, Adam, Krystian, Joe, Jody, Kerry, Joanne, Judith, Tim, Ben, Amy, Lorraine and there are of course some others. I did not have a high staff turnover, I might add; but you do employ a lot of staff in almost 22 years.

I thank you, Mr President, and all of our parliamentary, administrative and support staff, without whom we could not function, obviously. They are largely unseen but very critical to our effectiveness in this place and the general carrying-out of our work.

Thank you to all the many public servants. I defended them very vigorously when I was a minister and I pursued them very rigorously when I was in opposition in estimates, but I think always with respect and courtesy. There are many individuals and organisations in the business community, including the superannuation sector, and in community organisations and individuals with whom I have had good working relationships and friendships over a very long period of time.

I say thank you to my parliamentary colleagues. I have served with and under four prime ministers, and three opposition leaders who did not make it—an incredibly diverse group of individuals, if you think about it: everyone from Paul Keating through to Julia Gillard. There are a couple of parliamentarians I want to thank—and I am sorry I cannot mention more—particularly our leader, Chris Evans, and our former leader, John Faulkner. We have worked very closely and well together. There are also a couple of members of the House of Representatives I want to thank who have been longstanding and close personal friends, Sid Sidebottom and Dick Adams. I also want to thank all the very loyal Labor Party members who supported me through all those preselections and of course the electors of Tasmania.

I want to pay tribute to and remember my mum, Dorothy; my father, Ray; and my stepfather, Ken. To Sally: thank you for your loyalty and your support in often the most difficult of times. I thank my stepson, Adam, and my three wonderful children, Alexander, Sasha and Miah. It is often pretty gruelling in this place, as we all know. When I ring them at the end of the day, it always brings me great happiness to talk to them, and on occasions when I feel a little bit subdued and down I look at a photo of them. They are a great inspiration to me personally and a great joy in my life.

Let me make some reflections. Firstly, it was an enormous privilege to be a minister and/or parliamentary secretary for seven years—that is a good innings, I think, by any standards—and about the same time as an opposition frontbencher. I have had a wide range of responsibilities, including primary industries. I was the first Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law, as well as Minister for Small Business, Assistant Treasurer and Minister Assisting on Deregulation. It is an enormous privilege to be elected to this place but it is also a very, very great privilege to serve as a minister.

I want to make a few comments about the world we live in now and the impact on Australia. We are going through a period of extraordinary economic change, driven by the rapid evolution of technology as well as, of course, some of the issues around government debt and high levels of unemployment in some parts of the world. We now live in an international market economy, and I contrast today with the circumstances of the world 21 years ago, when I was elected. But this is a new world that we do need to embrace. We need to understand its consequences—not uncritically, but we should also not ignore the adverse consequences. To the extent that it is possible, because there are limitations, Australia needs to ensure that we uphold that ethic of a fair go and provide opportunities for all our citizens. Government needs to be vigilant and proactive. I have always considered myself a social democrat, never a socialist, I believe governments should not actually own and run distribution exchange in an economy. Market economies as we know them do have some drawbacks; we have seen them very starkly and clearly illustrated in recent times. Among almost every advanced economy in the world, with the exception of Australia, we are seeing massive upheaval—it is truly massive. We are seeing recessions, high unemployment, financial collapse and governments with debt levels greater than the value of their economies. This is causing enormous upheaval, which inevitably impacts on Australia. The mainstream parties of left and right—and again we have seen this in Europe—fundamentally have failed to deliver necessary reforms. The ones who suffer the most in these circumstances are the most vulnerable in our societies. That is why I have been a longstanding supporter of Labor and, I acknowledge, reforms. We should never be arrogant enough to assume in government that all good ideas rest on this side of the house. Australia by marked contrast has successfully carried out significant reforms which have meant we have avoided anywhere near the worst we are seeing in other advanced economies.

Fundamentally, this is being driven by ageing populations, fewer workers and unsustainable pension systems. As I have said, Australia is in marked contrast to this upheaval. It is often said that Australia is the lucky country—obviously a reference to the mining boom. I have long believed you make your own luck as a country and as an individual because luck is fundamentally based on the decisions you make. Shortly after coming into government in 2007, the government of which I was a minister was faced with the worst financial and economic circumstances in over 80 years. As an economic minister, and a member of the cabinet GFC subcommittee—global financial crisis, not Geelong Football Club, of which I am a renowned supporter, although people often mix them up—I was part of a government that was required to make a range of interventions which I, as a minister, had never dreamed would be necessary. There were the economic stimulus and bank guarantees. In my own ministerial patch there was action on short selling, credit-rating agencies and on issues relating to superannuation and investment schemes and a whole range of other interventions were necessary.

The economic stimulus, at the size and speed that was implemented in my view, and I passionately believe this today, was absolutely necessary. It saved Australia from a recession and the economy from falling off a cliff—which, indeed, people predicted at the time. They said the government could not prevent a recession in Australia. Hundreds of thousands of jobs were saved and thousands of businesses were saved from bankruptcy. Yes, some mistakes were made at the edges and they have been highlighted and well debated, but I would argue that in the circumstances and in the context of the time it was absolutely necessary. We may have seen Australia reach double-digit unemploy­ment, but contrast that with today's figure of 4.9 per cent unemployment. It took courage, particularly for a new government, and it was the right call for Australia and I will continue to defend it passionately. If you look at the outcome and the evidence and, as I say, at today's unemployment figure, and at a whole range of other areas, you see that it was the right call.

Yes, government debt resulted. Government debt did occur as a consequence, but we would have had more government debt than we have at the moment had we done nothing. The majority of the government debt has come about as a result of the fall-off in revenue, given the world economic circumstances. We would have had more government debt and all the other consequences without that stimulus. I am particularly proud of the way the Labor government, particularly being a new government, acted in those circumstances. No action or more limited action would have meant recession, a million unemployed and tens of thousands of businesses closed and, ironically, higher government debt. There was in my view a serious mistake made by Labor: it did not adjust the expectations of the community to the new reality in which we now live, particularly the fiscal reality.

I have mentioned pensions and in this context I would have to say something about superannuation. The one little remarked analysis is the critical role superannuation played in the financial crisis. While we saw all the undesirable impacts of short-term collapse of returns, which is bad for members, Australia, uniquely in the world, has an arms-length, diversified savings pool of some $1.3 trillion outside its banking system. Notwithstanding the strength of the banking system, this was a unique stabiliser which ensured a critical underpinning of Australia's economy at a very important time.

You know I have had an interest in superannuation. I have been involved in that a my parliamentary life and prior to that. I began my parliamentary life as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Superannuation, initially handling what is known as the compulsory nine per cent superannuation guarantee. It used to make me smile as a minister, because of the obvious enthusiasm of all the industry participants who would come up to me and say, 'This is a fantastic system, Nick. Gosh, we're glad a Labor government introduced it.' Of course, as chair of the Senate select committee I saw some of them turn up opposing it. They are all happy to endorse it now and indeed I acknowledge the bipartisanship of the opposition in this regard. Of course, the arguments against the superannuation guarantee are very similar to the arguments opposing the mining and carbon taxes—the future will see.

Compulsory superannuation is about delivering higher retirement income over time, above the basic state pension, subject to the means test. It is about outcomes for members, having the highest return with an efficient system and lowest possible fees. It is not about the vested interest of the system's participants, as much as many of them are my friends and work associates. I commend to the chamber the reforms that will flow from the Cooper review—that is, better super and the associated FoFA changes. They will come to the Senate and greatly improve the system as a whole and—an issue I have spoken about often—will result in a solution to the number of lost accounts. We have 7.3 million lost accounts containing over $20 billion. That is an extraordinary inefficiency. I want to refer to a thankyou from someone opposite, Rod Kemp. Rod rang me yesterday and said, 'Nick, are you really resigning because the budget is bringing back the super surcharge?' For those of you who remember my vigorous pursuit of the super surcharge, amongst many other issues, I think you will appre­ciate Rod's sense of humour. My response was: 'Well, at least we call a tax a tax.'

My home state of Tasmania is a wonderful, wonderful place to live. It is a place of great beauty, but it is going through difficult times and I am concerned about the economic future. Its economy is small, regional and vulnerable. Its industries are based on tourism, forestry, agriculture, fishing and mining. I have long argued that a sustainable logging industry with value adding in some areas of native forest is a reasonable approach and I still hold that view. Over 40 per cent of Tasmania is in national parks and reserves and that is off limits other than to some longstanding, exist­ing mining operations. There is currently an assessment process underway and if, as some would hope, it takes Tasmania to over 50 per cent of its surface area in reserves and national parks, that is a very significant shift and has significant economic implications for our economy. I believe it will not stop at trees. It is not just about trees; it is also about, in those areas in particular, restricting or removing mining, fishing and agriculture. Even starting a tourism venture in those areas is extraordinarily difficult. This has caused me deep concern over a long period of time. It is not just the economic impact that is important, but there is a series of economic and social consequences which will flow. If people think the current budget cutbacks in Tasmania are bad, wait until we see further budget cutbacks as a result of the shrinking of the Tasmanian economic base.

One of the fundamental duties and responsibilities of a Labor government, as I have said, is to deliver a strong economy and jobs. I believe, on any reasonable assess­ment, this government has done a good job and I am proud of it. It is not just those areas that are important. In the areas of social and environmental policy too we have seen significant progress—carbon pricing, dental, disability, fair work and the mining tax, to name just a few. On the evidence and the outcomes, this has been a good reforming government and I will continue to be an active supporter. That it is why I am Labor. We have a strong economy, we have jobs—more than 750,000 new jobs with fair wages and conditions—and we have reforms in education and health that provide opportunity for all. Government cannot do everything, but it can provide fairness and opportunity for all.

To turn briefly to a more personal note—the issue of mental health and suicide. A significant proportion of individuals in Australia experience depression during their working lives and, sadly, some take their lives. I want particularly to thank those who gave me support during a very difficult period of my life. Despite that experience, I do not consider myself an expert, because every individual is different. However, the much broader community debate that has occurred recently has increased understand­ing. Like physical illness, recovery is possible and return to normal work and social life is an outcome for many. I pay tribute to the range of medical practitioners, counsellors and community organisations who have assisted in this regard. In the political, but not being political, context I want to acknowledge the work individuals such as Andrew Robb, John Brogden and Jeff Kennett. There are of course many other public figures who have assisted in improving public understanding. Thank you, to you all.

As to the future, I look very much forward to that. I do not think it will surprise people that I have a few thoughts about my working life and it will I think be centred in the area of superannuation, retirement incomes and matters of that kind. I do not intend to become a political commentator, however. I think when you leave, you leave and it is best to put political commentary on the shelf and focus on some areas where people hopefully believe you have some expertise. I do want to say to you all that this is a tough, hard work environment. We all know that but it is usually little recognised. It is extraordinarily demanding on ourselves and our families, but regardless of the length of time we serve or the level of responsibility I also strongly believe that every one of us is motivated by the desire, whatever our differences, to make Australia a better place. I firmly believe Australia is the best place in the world to live, particularly in Tasmania. I say goodbye to you all and wish you all the best.

3:50 pm

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make some remarks in response to Nick's final speech in the chamber. I think the speech highlighted what a loss he is going to be. It highlighted his strength and the contribution that he always makes to debates. I want to be clear, though: this is not a condolence. We do far too many of them in this place. In my view this is a very happy occasion because it is not often that we have members of this place go out on their own terms following a decision they have made while at the height of their career.

Nick resigned from the ministry late last year at his own initiative and has decided to leave the Senate to pursue a new career. I think it is a really happy occasion, because we see so few members of parliament go out in that way. Most are dragged out, defeated or stay far too long. Nick is an example of someone who has worked out that he has made a huge contribution and he needs to make a contribution in another field. Nick has had a fine Labor career. I was talking to him about it when he stepped down from the ministry. There are very few Labor members of parliament who can look back on a career where they have contributed so much, had such great experiences and been able to be a central part of political life in Australia. I do not want to run through Nick's career—it is well known to people—but when I came to this place Nick was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy and was given all sorts of tough jobs as a junior parliamentary secretary in the Keating government. He impressed me from the start with how diligent, competent, effective and energetic he was, and that was noticed by most people. As a result, Nick held senior positions in the Labor Party in opposition and in government. He was Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate for a period and held many portfolios in opposition and in government. But, always, Nick seemed to manage to find a way back to the finance areas and invariably to superannuation, both in opposition and in government. He was Assistant Treasurer, Minister for Small Business, Minister Assisting on Deregulation and also Minister Assisting on Deregulation and Public Sector Superannuation.

It is very rare to find someone in this parliament who is so closely associated with an issue. If you said to anyone out in the street 'Nick Sherry', they would say 'superannuation'. He has probably developed a reputation as Australia's leading expert in the field of superannuation and public policy—I am not sure about investment, but certainly public policy. It is a great credit to him that he has developed that reputation through using the opportunities in this parliament, both in opposition and in government, to pursue that interest and to contribute to the development of our superannuation system.

I remember in the early days Nick and John Watson going around the country as members of the superannuation committee. John Watson is another famous Tasmanian. Cheryl Kernot was a member of that committee at the start as well. Many of us served on it. In my view, it was the parliament's and the Senate's best committee, because it focused on public policy work three, four, five years out and was able to stay out of partisan politics and made a huge contribution to public policy. Nick made that contribution as part of that committee and continued it in government. I know that he will pursue those interests in the coming years.

Nick is still a young man. He is getting out at a time when he can pursue a new career and I know he is enthusiastic about doing that. I do not think he will have time to read more ancient history; I think he will be too busy. Some of the books he reads are quite remarkable. I am not sure whether anyone else in the parliament has borrowed them from him, but he has had a long interest in those things.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Bob Carr might.

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, Bob might be able to take an interest, Nick, in some of the things that you have not been able to engage me in conversation about. As I say, it is a rather happy occasion that Nick has made the decision he has—not that we will not miss him and not that I have not relied on him enormously. He is a great team player and has been a great support to me in the Labor team. He is always someone you can turn to to do a job and you can rely on to do it really well.

He shows no greater commitment than as he leaves this place. Nick has agreed to chair a Senate estimates committee for us in a couple of weeks time as his parting contribution to the Senate. That is beyond the call of duty. I cannot name one other senator who would not have left the day before estimates started. To agree to a request and to honour a commitment to the whip to stay is, I think, a mark of the man. People outside would not understand what a sacrifice that is for the team, but those of us in here do understand. I think it is a mark of the man.

Nick, it is good to see many of your colleagues from the House of Representa­tives here; I am glad they could find the place! For some of you, I know it will be your first visit—probably your last. The fact that they are here reflects the esteem in which you are held. I was going to check whether you are the last surviving parlia­mentary member of the centre left group in the ALP. I think you were down to a group of one, so it might be the end of the group. At a time when factions were more prominent in the Labor Party, Nick was part of that group. As I say, he may well be the last.

It is a reflection on how well he is regarded in Tasmania that, despite that group inside the party fading in influence, Nick continued to get preselected, often through quite arduous campaigns around the branches of Tasmania. He was always able to get preselected because of his contribution and standing with the branch members in Tasmania. I know he is well regarded in Tasmania. I have always known he is a Tasmanian first and a Labor Party member second—as seems to be the case with most Tasmanians. He has been a great representative of Tasmania.

Nick, from my point of view personally, I am sorry you are going, because I rely on you and you made a huge contribution to the Labor team and to this Labor government, but I am also really happy for you that you have made a decision, that you have decided to pursue a new career and that you are going out on your own terms at the top of your game. I can speak on behalf of all Labor senators in saying that we wish you the best and that we hope to see you. I can assure you there will be no questions asked about lost super accounts following your departure from the Senate. All the members of the tactics committee who have had to deal with that over the years will be mightily relieved. We probably should have let him ask a question about lost super today! It reflects his ongoing interest in superannuation and his expertise.

Nick, thank you very much for everything you have done. We wish you all the best. As I say, you have had a great Labor career and we look forward to your progress in your new endeavours.

Honourable senators: Hear, hear!

3:58 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

The coalition and, if I might say, I personally wish Senator Sherry well for his future. He has been a worthy warrior for the Labor Party over many decades, but in particular the last two as a senator for that great state of Tasmania. I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting Senator Sherry at the University of Tasmania more decades ago than both Senator Sherry and I would care to remember—a time when he had very long hair and I had hair. Suffice to say he was a warrior then and continues to be. It seems that there was some unwritten and unspoken pact between us, because we never descended to referring to each other's escapades as young people at university and in student politics in the various debates. It seems as though there was a sort of a detente between us. Whilst you are now leaving, I can assure you, Senator Sherry, I will not seek to take advantage of that. The pact will remain.

Senator Sherry's debating skills and capacity at question time were exceptionally effective. So, if I can be brutally honest, from that perspective we will not miss Senator Sherry. But his work ethic was legendary, as was his committee work, which was always detailed and thorough. I note that your last work as a senator will be at estimates. In fact I had scribbled a note as well, Senator Evans, saying 'a display of duty well and truly beyond the call'. His work ethic also showed on matters of superannu­ation, where he was clearly Labor's expert in the area, rivalled only by our own Senator John Watson in expertise. Witnessing a debate between Senators Sherry and Watson was to witness a truly informed debate which, I confess, left me none the wiser nor better informed before, during or after the debate.

His first speech tells us of his rich Labor heritage from both his mother's side and father's side and of being steeped in the ideology of Labor, which in turn made him the formidable trade union leader and then parliamentarian that he became. His commitment to Tasmania was beyond doubt, as was displayed by his comments in relation to ongoing lockups of Tasmania's land mass.

Senator Sherry's recovery and recuper­ation from his personal crisis whilst a senator was and still serves as an inspiration to many who deal with issues of depression. Today is a day for Labor to honour a veteran and a true stalwart of their side of politics, so I suspect that Labor people and Labor supporters will not necessarily want to see this part of Hansard being despoiled with a lengthy coalition contribution. In short, whilst disagreeing with an opponent on virtually all issues of public policy—except, of course, matters Tasmanian and AFL football—one can still respect that person's capacity, work ethic and commitment. The coalition respects and recognises those qualities in Senator Sherry and we wish him well.

4:03 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon on behalf of the Australian Greens to wish you all the best, Senator Sherry, for your future. I have had the privilege of being part of the Tasmanian team in the Senate for a very long time and I recognise that Nick is leaving on what is effectively his 21st birthday in this place. As with everyone who achieves their 21st birthday, what they aim to do is get the keys to the door, and that is what Nick is doing right now—getting the keys to the door after having spent a good many years here in the national interest. He is now able to take the benefit of that experience in the national interest to whatever career he now pursues. But, as Senator Evans has suggested, I doubt that it can be anything other than in the area of superannuation because that has become such a personal passion for him.

I want to put on the record the fact that he was Australia's first ever minister for superannuation. He took that issue from where it once was—hardly anyone ever talked about superannuation or thought about the retirement years—to being a matter of great concern to a lot of people. Again as Senator Evans mentioned, Senator Sherry has always spoken of the need to lower fees in the superannuation industry and to provide better retirement incomes for people. That is the basis of what he has argued for so long, and it led to the Cooper review. I do not think people are aware that that is what drove the Cooper review, the first ever systemic, in-depth review of the operation, efficiency and performance of Australia's compulsory $1 trillion superannuation system. That review, released in 2010, was very important. I have to say the Greens look forward to working with the Gillard government to improve the superannuation system in the future on the back of the work that you have done getting it to where it is, holding a national conversation and moving to make sure that it is fairer and delivers in the best way possible for people. No doubt there will be an opportunity to work with you wherever you go in this field, because it is something the parliament will be trying to work through in the future.

In terms of his representation of Tasmania, Nick is very well known around the state but particularly in the north-west of the state, where he has represented people with a genuine sense of engagement with the issues they have, trying to deal with those issues at a constituent level and through the parliament. Of course, before going into the superannuation field he worked on a lot of rural and regional issues and still does in his capacity representing Tasmania in the Senate.

I wish him all the best. I note that he talked about his family and his children as being the joy of his life. One of the great things about getting the key to the door out of the Senate is that he will be able to spend an awful lot more time with the people who give him so much joy in his life. I wish you all the best in that, I look forward to continuing to engage with you and I acknowledge the many years you have contributed to the public interest in the service of the nation.

4:06 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I too join in paying tribute to Senator Sherry for his tremendous public service. He has been a good minister to deal with. I know I have frustrated him at times, when my vote counted, but he was very good to deal with. He is a highly competent parliamentarian and a very good minister, and his contribution to public debate and policy reform in relation to superannuation should not be underestimated. I think we have lost a significant talent, particularly in relation to the whole issue of superannuation. I want to take issue, though, with Senator Evans, who said that lost super is something they will never have to ask about again. Before I came to this place I did a brief stint as a talkback host on Adelaide radio.

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

A low-rating one, I understand!

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I won't cop that, Senator Evans! It was a very high-rating program. It is in fact the highest-rating commercial talk show—or the station is. I think I kept the ratings up! No, the ratings were okay. But the issue is that I asked Senator Sherry to be a guest. I do not think he twigged that I was a senator-elect at that time. He came on to talk about his favourite topic: lost superannuation accounts. Despite the fact that Senator Evans thinks this is a very boring topic, particularly in the tactics committee, the switchboard lit up from people around the suburbs of Adelaide wanting more information on lost super. It was something that resonated in the suburbs of Adelaide and I imagine throughout Australia as an issue that is important.

I wish Senator Sherry well, but I do have some bad news for him: I am planning to put up a private senator's bill and some superannuation issues about accountability, so I am afraid I will be haranguing him in his retirement. Hopefully he will take my call.

Photo of Nick SherryNick Sherry (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would be happy to.

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

He is happy to take my call. That is what I would expect of him. To a genuinely good bloke, an outstanding member of parliament and a very good minister: I wish you all the best.

4:08 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to be here in the chamber and to be able to pay my respects to Nick Sherry. I have known Nick a long time, and I never thought I would be in the chamber with him, let alone be here to farewell him.

Nick comes from a political family, as you would all know. His father, Ray, was the federal House of Representatives member for Franklin from 1969 to 1975. So Nick, probably a little bit like myself, could not really see any other option but to become politically active—and we are very grateful that he did. As Nick said, he attended the University of Tasmania and was involved in student unionism. I will just touch on some of his working life, because I think that helped shape who he became as a senator and as an effective contributor in this chamber.

He started his working life as a night cashier and auditor at the Wrest Point hotel and casino in Hobart. He went on to be the state secretary of the Federated Liquor and Allied Industries Employees Union of Australia between 1979 and 1990. While he was state secretary he helped establish the HOSTPLUS Superannuation Fund. So his interest in superannuation has been there for a long time. But I think people like myself will probably remember his contribution in other forms, such as taking away some of the superannuation benefits of those in this chamber.

Nick was elected in 1990. He has held a number of positions. He was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy between 1993 and 1996 and Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate in 1996. It is hard to talk about this issue, but I think Nick has led the way in speaking so openly and publicly about his challenges with his clinical depression. From a personal point of view, I do not think I will ever forget the time Nick came to visit us during his recovery process, a time when he was trying to decide what was best for him and his family and what he should do—not only what was in his interest and his family's interest but what was in the party's interest. Nick has demonstrated enormous courage and determination and has demonstrated very clearly that we all have the capacity to rebuild our lives and to rebuild our careers. He has the utmost respect from me personally and, I know, from so many others as a result of what he has done and what he continues to do.

His contribution as far as superannuation and retirement income savings are concerned is legendary. He is so well known as the expert on superannuation. The only problem has always been, Nick, that when I have come to you seeking advice you have said, 'I'm not qualified to give any advice at all'! But I know you will continue with your passion.

Senator Brown asked me: 'Are you going to have some funny stories? Have you spoken to Michael?'—my brother, Michael Polley. I thought that would probably not be a good idea, because I would be here for such a long time. I think those stories are probably better left to other forums.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Inside the Labor Party!

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I do not think they all need to be kept inside the Labor Party, but I think there will be other places for them. And Nick would be very disappointed if he did not hear this from me: I am hoping we can benefit financially as a party from your departure when we get to say our farewell to you in Tasmania!

But it is so pleasing to be able to say just a few words. I hope I get the same opportunity to decide when I depart this place. Nick is known for being capable, he is known for being loyal, he has shown courage and determination, he has been a friend and he has been a mentor. I have seen the good side of Nick. I have seen his sense of humour. I have seen him be very, very charming—I think he will be well remembered for his charm. But, I have to say, he has also been very politically astute. As someone who originated in a different faction to Nick, I am not suffering any loss with the demise of the Centre Left—or, as I used to fondly refer to them, the soft marshmallows! I could recall, although I will not go into all the history, how their demise partly came about through the elevation of another Tasmanian to this place—a former senator. We will not go there at all, but the expression on Nick Sherry's face at that state conference with Michael Aird and Michael Field will always be with me. I am not sure that it ultimately proved to be the best decision, though.

I would also like to make mention of what I believe has been one of Nick's strengths, and that is his capacity to debate, to articulate his viewpoint, to defend the government. I saw that when I came in as a member of the opposition. There is also his role in estimates. It concerns me that we do not have the skills that we need to develop our estimates process. We have lost so many good contributors—I have experienced Robert Ray, and we are lucky to have John Faulkner here. Nick, you certainly come to mind in that process. I have seen you operate in opposition but also when you appeared before the committee I chair, the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committ­ee. You may have frustrated those on the opposite side a lot, but as the chair I appreciated your contribution and respected and appreciated the way you defended the public servants—and you also made mention of that in your contribution.

Thank you on the behalf of the Tasmanian community. Thank you on behalf of the party that we love and you love very dearly—the Australian Labor Party. In saying farewell, apart from seeing that you were very happy when you made the decision to step out of the ministry—and you have been extremely happy since you made the decision to go—the only other time that I can recall seeing you as happy was when your first daughter was born, and now you have your daughter and your son—your twins. Their birth challenged both you and Sally, and our hearts went out to you then. Once again, you demonstrated how you can get over adversities that confront all of us at different times in our lives.

Enjoy your time with those beautiful children and with your stepson and his children, and make the most of every opportunity you have. I know, quite sincerely, that Nick Sherry not only talks the talk but actually lives the true values of what being a Labor Party person means. I wish you every success. Take care of yourself and remember we are only a phone call away. I hope you will still be at the end of the phone when we seek your advice and counsel. Thank you, Nick, and all the very best.

4:16 pm

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

I also join with others to thank you, Nick, for your contribution and service as a senator to the state of Tasmania and to the Tasmanian branch of the Australian Labor Party. We have already heard from previous speakers that Nick has politics in his blood and as time is limited I do not have time to recount Nick's entire career, but I do want to touch on a few memories that I have of him.

I first met Nick in 1983. I was a new member then and Nick was already well established within the ALP. Nick is known in Tasmania as a great campaigner and having a very astute political brain. His wisdom and nous for political strategy is well regarded. I think Nick's early success in politics as a member of the university SRC, State Secretary of the Liquor and Allied Trade Union and his entry into the Senate in his early 30s attests to that. His factional preselection battle I have been told was a lot closer in terms of the margin of his selection than it was when Nick was battling to take over the liquor union, when he was battling against conservative right-wing forces. Nick had a very good win. It was a long and protracted battle, I know, but he had a very big win. But in the centre-left at the time, I think the Senate preselection margin was the only margin you needed—that is, one vote. He certainly has not looked back since then. He has gone on to have a successful career in federal politics, including his appointment as Australia's first ever minister for superannuation.

I have a long list of what I wanted to say but there are many others who want to speak. But I have to say that my understanding of Nick's team when he was contesting the leadership of the Liquor and Allied Trade Union was that it consisted mainly of women, reversing the previous gender imbalance that was the norm back then. Nick has continued his support of women into politics. He is well known as a huge supporter of former Senator Kay Denman and other female politicians back home in Tasmania. Look at what we have now: Senator Sherry and five strong Labor women senators from Tasmania. I know the Liberal Party are taking on board Nick's support of women and our side will hopefully follow as well.

I acknowledge your House of Representatives colleagues who came here today—Julie Collins, Dick Adams, Sid Sidebottom, Geoff Lyons and, of course, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, along with many others who came to show their respect for your career in the Senate and for what you have achieved as part of the government and as part of the ALP. In Nick's first speech he talked about why he was Labor and that he strongly adhered to the labour movement's determination to protect those in less fortunate economic circumstances in our society. Whilst it is fitting that today the Senate is celebrating Nick's parliamentary career, it comes after this government has delivered a budget that is Labor to its core.

I thank Nick and wish him all the best for his future endeavours. I also thank him for the fact that the senators' fund contribution will go down because Senator Sherry will no longer be feeding that legendary sweet tooth of his. I also remind him that, regardless of his long list of achievements in the ALP and in government, unfortunately, because he is such a young man life membership of the ALP is many, many years off.

4:21 pm

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak, and it gives me great pleasure, to acknowledge Senator Nick Sherry's enormous contribution to the Senate, to the Australian Labor Party and to our nation. As has been mentioned, we are bit short of time, Nick, so I will be a lot shorter than I intended to be but no less sincere, mate, as you know. You and I have known each other a very long time. We have had some really good times together and we have been through some adversity separately but always supported each other. To me, that has always been really important.

There is no doubting that you made a substantial contribution to Australia through your Senate career. I consider your retirement to be a great loss to the parliament, to the Labor Party, as I said, and to the state of Tasmania, which all of the rest of the Tasmanian senators and members think is such a great place. I appreciate that you have been in politics for a long time and that you do think there is probably another life, and that you have earned the right to do something for yourself. If you accept the conjecture that years in politics are like dog years then, Nick, you have been here for over a century. That is just a little thought to go away with.

While you are stepping away from politics I hope that, whatever you choose to do, the Labor Party will still have the benefit of your counsel. Whatever you choose to do beyond your career in the Senate, I will know that you have so much to offer. I truly wish you well. I wish you well in spending more time with your beautiful three children who I have had a lot to do with over the time—Mia, Alex and Sasha are lovely kids, beautiful kids. I know they are at the centre of your heart and I do wish you well in being able to spend more time with them. We all appreciate what people with children give up, as you mentioned.

You have been a great friend to me over many years—decades, in fact. You have been a wise counsel to me personally on many occasions and I thank you for that. We have had some good times and some laughs, but I do not think I will ever forgive you for the day I travelled up to the north-west coast to do some doorknocking with you. It was absolutely pouring buckets. I was there with an umbrella and a coat and a clipboard. We doorknocked Wivenhoe and I thought, 'I know I have come a long way and I am only here for one day but, really, if I get sick from this I will not be a happy woman.'

There is one, last really serious message I need to give you, Nick. It is something I have been nagging you about for many years. I am sure you know what it is: Nick, give up the cigarettes, mate. Give up the cigarettes. You are not doing anyone any favours, including your beautiful children. I did notice you did not cough through your farewell speech and I wondered if you had actually cut back a bit. I hope so but I do want you to give them up. As I said, enjoy your time with Mia, Alex and Sasha—beautiful children. There is no doubt that they deserve to have some time with you as well. All the best.

4:25 pm

Photo of Lisa SinghLisa Singh (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to offer my sincere best wishes to Senator Nick Sherry, also to thank him for his many years of service in this place and to Tasmanians and to Australia. Like many of us in the ALP, Nick realised as a young person working in an industry that was principally of low-paid workers without any of the economic power of the larger companies they were working for, in his case the Wrest Point Casino, that unions and collective bargaining were essential to getting a fair deal. It is perhaps best seen, Nick, from your time as a night cashier at the casino when you became acutely aware of the importance of having some kind of savings left behind. This very much led to your involvement as a minister in economic portfolios and also as a shadow minister involved in reforming superannuation.

I took the liberty of reaching back into the Hansard of the 1990s when Nick gave his first speech in this place. There are a number of striking features of that speech but, most significantly, Nick's thorough-going commit­ment to the protection of individuals from the overwhelming power imbalance present in the workplace. The one thing that struck me was that the speech was punctuated by an understanding of the significance of the economic growth of Asia. Nick was part of the Labor government of the 1990s guided by visionaries like Gareth Evans and one of Australia's greatest Prime Ministers, Paul Keating—a government that comprised men and women who knew how important it was for Australia to recognise and leverage the geographic realities of our nation. Nick contributed to that cultural shift just as he contributed to the important reforms to superannuation. Now, after years of neglect during the coalition government's term, Labor is leading the nation in coming to terms with the Asian century, about which Nick was speaking when he first addressed this place.

I first met Nick at a state conference when I joined the Labor Party in the 1990s. His intellect and sense of fairness struck me then as someone who belonged in the Labor Party. He is someone from whom I have sought advice on occasion and I have enjoyed his wit, his charm and his knowledge on all things financial and the like. Nick ends his parliamentary career after so many years of service: service to the Australian Labor Party, to his Tasmanian neighbours and constituents, and to the nation, including future generations who will benefit from his knowledge, wisdom and dedication to reform. Thank you, Nick. We will miss you in this place but I have no doubt that your retirement from the Senate heralds an exciting new chapter in your life and one which I very much wish you all the best.

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I call Senator Faulkner. I have two speakers for two minutes.

4:28 pm

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Nick, I pay tribute to you as a senator, parliamentary secretary, shadow minister, deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party in the Senate, minister and always a Labor loyalist. I will never forget working so closely with you in that period when you were deputy leader from 19 March 1996 to 7 October 1997, when we were Labor's Senate leadership team. These are not original words but let me say: it was the best of times; it was the worst of times. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your loyalty. Thank you for your contribution.

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to make a quick contribution to the debate and wish Nick all the very best. I shared one thing in particular with Nick—the Dash 8 from Devonport on Sunday evenings. That became associated as a time when Nick was crook and coughing, as Senator Bilyk has mentioned. I can recall very clearly one day, at the airport, this young boy screeching wildly—it was Alex. In a symptom of how we become associated with this business, the aeroplane meant dad was coming home. In fact, just last Sunday evening we were talking at the airport about how the kids were growing, and how wonderful they were—they are gorgeous kids—so you are making the right decision to spend that time with them.

I know there have been some highs and lows for you over your career, but I think the measure of a person is how someone gets up and goes on from that—and there is no question that you are an example in that respect. You did have some sincere lows. I remember when the twins were born, and how difficult that was; and there are other examples that have been mentioned today. So you do present a real example to all of us of how you get up from those difficult periods and get on with things and then make a successful reintroduction.

I commend you sincerely on your comments about our state, its financial circumstance now, the amount of it that is locked up and your passion to see a strong economy growing, and I urge you to continue to use your influence with your colleagues in respect of that.

I congratulate you on your contribution to your party, our state, our country and this chamber—particularly with respect to superannuation. I really do understand your reasons for going. Congratulations on your career, and I am sure I will see you at the airport!