Tuesday, 24 June 2014
In keeping with the trend of making short statements, I too will be making one today. I would like to begin by acknowledging those retiring senators: Senators Furner, Farrell, Thorp, Pratt, Bishop, Stephens, Boswell, Kroger, Eggleston and Boyce. And, Mr President, I would like to acknowledge your retirement after many years of service to the Senate. I congratulate you on the way that you have, in an even-handed way, managed the operations of this chamber. I wish all those retiring senators well for whatever comes beyond 30 June and congratulate them on their contributions.
It has been a steep learning curve, and I feel that I have only just found my feet in this place. Although this stint has been short, I am truly honoured to have been able to represent the great state of Victoria.
To my colleagues: it has been a privilege and an honour working with all of you. Where I have sought advice and counsel, you have without hesitation provided it, and for that I thank you. There has also been a great deal of unsolicited advice, which was also appreciated.
The time I have spent here has given me an opportunity to represent the views of those from my home state and Australians across the country. I have seen and heard and listened and learned. I do not plan on speaking for long, because this is a statement rather than a valedictory speech. But, in the spirit of counsel that I have received, I would also like to provide some counsel to those on the other side.
The Treasurer, in the budget speech, said Australia is a nation of lifters. I must congratulate those across the chamber, the Liberal and National parties, because they have provided leadership in that sense. They have lifted the retirement age, they have lifted consumer protection, they have lifted the protection against being a bigot, they have lifted the cost of going to the doctor and they have lifted the cost of education. Whether they choose to take the counsel is their choice, but what the Australian people would like is some honesty. I am sure those opposite will get support from the community if they are up-front with what they are doing.
This is an opportunity for me to go back to the first time I spoke in this chamber. I spoke about a couple of things, one of which was housing affordability and the other of which was organ donation. I would like to add a third point which I feel strongly about.
I have no doubt the Australian community do not want to see people dying on the high seas in coming to Australia and looking for a better life. But they also do not want to see our fellow human beings treated harshly and inhumanely. I call upon those in this place to look within their hearts for a better solution.
I would like to thank some people, because my time here would not have been what it is without them. First and foremost is my family. For their unwavering support, I sincerely thank them from the deepest corners of my heart. I would like to thank the Senate leadership team, Senator Wong and Senator Conroy, for the support and advice they have provided in my time here. I acknowledge the hard work of the whip, her office and the deputy whips in everything they do.
It is a sombre moment but one which has, on reflection, provided me with an opportunity that not many people get to experience, and it is truly an honour—and I know that every single one of you also feels the same way. I am grateful for the opportunity afforded to me to be in this place by the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party, without whose support I would not be here.
What is often forgotten is the hard work that goes into what we do by the staff that work for us and keep us going. In my time here, and in a previous life, I have had the opportunity to work with some wonderful people who I hope I have brought along with me for the ride. I am grateful for the hard work they have put in. They roll up every day without raising an eyebrow and they do what is required. We often do not appreciate enough what a burden we place on them.
I will briefly mention a few of them: Ella George and Sam Rae, who have been there for a while with me, for them I am grateful, Cesar Piperno, Steve Le, Susan Yildiz, Hashem Ouaida, Bassell Tallal, Michael Berthelsen, Bridget Bourke, Simon Miller, Alfred Acquaro, Hayley Clarke, Kellie Macnaughtan, Patrick Wingrove, Ridvan Kilic, Emma Henderson, Adam Carr, Idris Muslu, Sophie Westland and Stephanie Elaine Makhlota. I am truly grateful for all the support they have provided. Without their contribution, my contribution would not have been what it has.
In keeping this short, I intend to wrap up, Mr President. I see Senator Cormann in the chamber. My inclination and temptation is to say, 'I'll be back'; however, I shall not. I will leave the chamber by saying, 'Till we meet again.' Thank you, Mr President.
I start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered, the Ngunnawal and Ngambi people, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I would like to thank the chamber for the opportunity today to rise during my last few days in this place and put on the record my appreciation for the incredible opportunity I have been afforded in being a senator for Tasmania.
I entered the Senate a short two years ago. I say short because the time has flown—as I have flown more times than I care to remember. As senators would be aware, I came here to serve the remainder of the term of the highly-respected Nick Sherry. I was very proud and pleased that I won that privilege as a result of a ballot of the rank-and-file members in which I received 89 per cent of the vote. I sincerely hope I have warranted the trust that they put in me.
The good men and women of the Australian Labor Party in general, and my state in particular, have very clear expectations of their elected representatives. They expect hard work, dedication to the principles of our party, social justice and equity. At this point in our history, fighting for social justice and equity has never been more vital. This budget we are dealing with here in this place attacks the very fabric of the Australian social contract—the contract that has long formed the backbone of our national identity. If it passes, I am afraid we will see the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is not the Australia I know and it is not the Australia I want future generations to grow up in, but in a cruel and ironic way it may be exactly what Australians need to remind us that nothing is a given and that politics actually matter.
I believe this government has severely underestimated the intelligence of the Australian people and the unwillingness of the Australian people to blindly believe what they are told and to meekly accept what is offered in this place. Again, ironically, it may be this budget that galvanises people to mobilise and fight for the Australia they want for the future. We need to remember that the principles of equality, fairness, transparency, accountability and a fair go that we hold dear are stitched together by individual choices that we need to make again, just as they have been made decade after decade before us. We need to stand strong in the face of those who wish to sow the seeds of fear and division by fabricating crises and demonising certain groups in society—especially those groups that do not have the resources or communication access to argue their own case. We need to be wise to the tactics that would turn us against each other by fuelling jealousy, contempt and hatred for some of our fellow Australians. If we accept this framing of the world and if we buy into the simplistic view of them versus us, where we clearly mark out the territory of the two and jealously guard the intervening borders, there is little doubt we will all lose.
The truth is that the vast majority of us want to live in a peaceful, caring and, above all, fair world, where people get the support they need to get through tough times and the opportunity they need to contribute productively to Australia's future. We need to be willing to unite with our fellow Australians to ensure that we do not stray from that path. Now more than ever, Australia needs to recognise that growing inequality is one of the greatest threats that we face. A recent Forbes and Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook study found that the wealthiest one per cent of Australians have more money than 60 per cent of the population. It also found that the nine richest people in Australia have a fortune equal to the net worth of the 4.5 million Australians in the poorest 20 per cent. In Australia since 1975, real wages for the bottom 10th of earners has risen by 15 per cent, while the top 10th have seen wage increases of 59 per cent. At the same time the income share of the top one per cent has doubled and the income share of the top 0.1 per cent has tripled. Globally, it is staggering that the top 85 richest people now own half the entire world's wealth. A recent Oxfam report outlines the problem very clearly when it says:
…inequality threatens to further entrap poor and marginalised people and undermine efforts to tackle extreme poverty. By concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few, inequality robs the poorest people of the support they need to improve their lives, and means that their voices go unheard.
But there are still those who think it is okay for some individuals to have more than they could spend even if they lived a hundred lifetimes, while hundreds of thousands wonder where their next meal is coming from. Others believe there is nothing wrong with multinational companies hiding an estimated $21 trillion in tax havens globally, while thousands of Australians struggle to keep a roof over their heads.
I do not believe this is okay. In fact, I believe one of the strongest obligations in the Australian social contract is that we look after each other and strive of fairness were ever possible. We have a responsibility to provide support to help our fellow Australians overcome the challenges and to acknowledge that greater equality leads to better outcomes for all of this. Let's be clear: these are not just warm fuzzy platitudes about how nice it is to do nice things for people from lefties like myself. No, scholars have confirmed that more equal societies achieve better outcomes for all their citizens. British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett analysed hundreds of peer reviewed research papers on the spirit of inequality in their groundbreaking book, The Spirit Level. They looked at 11 different health and social problems including: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies and child wellbeing. In doing so, they found that, for each and every one of these issues, outcomes are significantly worse in countries that are more unequal. This stands in stark contrast to the idea sometimes peddled by the conservative side of politics. Using naive metaphors like 'All boats will rise', they attempt to justify inequality and the failed mantra of trickle-down economics, which has been referred to in the Guardian as 'the greatest broken promise of our lifetime'.
Despite the evidence, there are still some who assert that inequality is actually a good thing—people like Canadian millionaire Kevin O'Leary, who said that is fantastic that the world's 85 richest people have wealth that equals that held by 3.5 billion poorest people on the planet. He justifies this outrageous statement by saying that the one per cent provide inspiration and motivation for the 99 per cent to work harder. While this is a ridiculous argument that verges on caricature, it has some things in common with the untruths that get hauled out in our national debate to rationalise a tax on some of the most vulnerable Australians. Reading some media outlets, you may be fooled into thinking that poverty is just the result of a lack of will on behalf of the poor—if poor people just tried a little, they too could rise to the ranks of the ridiculously rich—and that the problem is not one of fairness, but one of laziness.
Of course, the simplistic argument is completely blind to the reality of human circumstance. The truth is that not all people start equally—not all are blessed with loving families, adequate food or stable housing. This means that some people cannot even see the starting line, let alone win the race. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that those who are not blessed are given the resources and pathways they need to rise above difficult circumstances. All Australians need to get the chance to achieve their full potential and we need to develop the right pathways, policies and resources to help them do this. Unfortunately, many would have us believe that we inhabit an economy rather than a society. In doing so they place the ultimate worth on the figures on the balance sheet at the expense of our health, our environment, our educational achievements, our cohesiveness and our unity as a people. But the irony is that this very balance sheet is also at risk if we let our country slide into a sea of have-nots, topped up by a sparse sprinkling of very rich haves.
In fact, there is a growing body of research that shows this very inequality leads to reduced economic outcomes for the country as a whole. Only a few months ago, the IMF warned that inequality seriously damages economic growth. It found that countries with high levels of inequality achieve lower growth compared to nations with more evenly distributed incomes. Similarly, Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has warned that inequality can make growth more volatile and create the unstable conditions for sudden slowdowns. But it is not just our financial stability at risk from growing inequality; our social and political stability is at risk too. In its annual assessment of global dangers, the World Economic Forum found that the chronic gap between rich and poor to be the biggest single risk to the world in 2014. It warns of a lost generation of young people unable to work, and this could easily boil over into very serious social upheaval.
… there are moments in time when capitalism can go into overdrive and it is important to have measures in place—whether regulatory, government or tax measures—that ensure we avoid excesses in terms of income and wealth distribution.
Similarly, the IMF has pointed out that governments can turn things around. Over the last year, it has published two major papers on inequality which explain its effect on growth and how tax and spending policies can be designed to help achieve redistribution at a minimal cost to economic efficiency. By investing in fairness through policy, we also create an environment where people can contribute to a more productive, prosperous society for us all.
I stand today proud to have been part of a long history of a party that is inclusive—a party that stands up for the most vulnerable members of our society and a party that seeks to allow Australians to be the very best they can, but, most importantly, a party that will fight for a fair go for all of us. That is why I am Labor.
In the words of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, Labor has always aimed to promote equality, to involve the people of Australia in the decision making processes of our land, and to liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people. We have held true to this philosophy over the years in a range of policy areas.
We know that health outcomes can have a huge impact on the ability of people to achieve their potential. This is why the Whitlam government established universal health care, to ensure that all Australians would have access to quality health care regardless of income or background. So it is with education. Labor's landmark Gonski review of education found that achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds were larger than in any comparable nation and the situation would only worsen without urgent action. The Labor government listened, and set in train the nation-building reforms to address inequality within our education system by funding schools according to the needs of individual students. Similarly, the National Disability Insurance Scheme will go some way to addressing inequality for many Australians. The NDIS will mean more choice and control, more independence and more opportunities for people with disability to be involved in school, work and community life. The Rudd government's move to increase pensions in 2009 actually served to reduce relative poverty by one-fifth, while Labor's low-income super contribution allowed 3.6 million low-income earners to better save for their retirement.
We also cannot forget that the union movement has been a steadfast force for the working people of Australia, consistently and determinedly fighting for a fair go, especially for lower-paid workers. Now more than ever we need to recognise that nothing is a given. We need to understand that if we want a fairer, better world for our children and grandchildren, we must be prepared to fight for it. And now more than ever we need to rail against the gaping chasm of inequality that threatens to grow ever wider if we do not act. This is a challenge for all of us in this place, and I wish you all strong arms and stout hearts in your efforts.
I have tried to do my best over my personal and political life to fight for the most vulnerable in our community, as a teacher, and as a state minister for education and skills, children, child protection, housing, disability, police and emergency services—and you wonder why I look this old!—and, more recently, in this place. I hope my efforts have progressed our efforts in caring for people living with dementia and custodial grandparents and in support for children and young people. I have tried to ensure Tasmania's future as a place of unique beauty and lifestyle through my efforts in regard to the GMO moratorium, protecting our fisheries from the ravages of supertrawlers and attacks on our World Heritage areas. Whether I have succeeded, of course, is for others to judge.
All through this time I have enjoyed the support of remarkable friendships with Senator Carol Brown and Julie Collins. Oxley Court is seared into my memory forever. I know they both will continue to do wonderful things for Tasmania in my absence. I hope to continue to enjoy the friendship of Anne Urquhart and the rest of the Tasmanian Senate team, along with that of Anne McEwen, Gavin Marshall, Claire Moore, Doug Cameron and Louise Pratt, amongst others.
Throughout my time here, I have been supported by wonderful staff: Rebecca Willetts, Steve Best, Adam Clarke, Natalie Jones and Darren Clark. You are the best. My heartfelt thanks for your hard work, dedication and companionship.
Thanks, too, to the good people of the Tasmanian branch of Labor—too many to list here, but I can't not mention John Dowling, Chris Brown, Tim Jacobsen, Helen Gibbons and John Short. You are the bedrock the party depends on.
My thanks to all the great people who work in this place and make sure that as senators we are able to do our work to the best of our ability: the Clerk and her staff, Hansard, the committee secretariats, the library staff, catering staff and cleaners, and last but certainly not least, Ian and Peter and their shuttle team.
I wish all in this place the best. Regardless of our political differences, you are all here to serve your fellow Australians. I may not agree with your beliefs and values, but I do know you hold them sincerely. I know the sacrifices you make to do your jobs, and I thank you for them.
I am looking forward to being back in my beloved Tassie and spending time with my family and friends, particularly my husband of 31 years, the wonderful Toby Thorp. And believe me, we have plans. Thank you.
I commence by acknowledging the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, and paying my respects to elders past and present. It has been, for me, a great privilege and a considerable pleasure to serve the state of Western Australia in this place since 2008. There is no greater honour, in my view—no greater responsibility in our democracy—than for us to be entrusted by our fellow citizens with the duty to represent them, the opportunity to contribute to the legislation that protects their needs, serves their interests and shapes our great nation.
I thank my fellow Western Australians for their trust and the opportunity given to me to serve them in both the state Legislative Council and the Senate. Today I pay tribute to the great many community, social justice, disability, local government, LGBTI, women's, environment and Indigenous organisations and advocates I have had the great pleasure of working with and supporting over the last six years. It has also been a great honour to work with Indigenous custodians who have welcomed me to their country around my state and around the nation. I have seen too much poverty, too much hardship in WA's Indigenous communities but also extraordinary resilience and leadership and great vision. I particularly want to thank all those Indigenous leaders and elders who have taught me so much about the Indigenous cultural economies that they have been working so hard to build and develop. In particular, I wish the ranger programs around our country well.
I want to thank the Australian Labor Party for the honour of representing our party and advancing our values. All of us in this place know that we owe our capacity to make a contribution to a great many other people. So, first and foremost, I want to thank the members of the WA Labor Party and our affiliated unions for our shared values, our commitment and the many tireless hours spent together over many election campaigns. I thank EMILY's List, I thank Young Labor Women's Network, and I thank Rainbow Labor for their support. I thank the ALP branches around my state of WA and their members. I know how hard all the members of the party work to contribute and uphold our mutual values.
I have some wonderful friends and comrades who have made my parliamentary career possible, and I want to pause to remember and thank the late Jock Ferguson. I thank Steve McCartney, Sally Talbot, Jon Ford, Geoff Gallop, Joan Kirner, Mick Buchan, Christy Cain, Sue Bowers, Penny Sharpe, Jo Tilley, Ashley Hogan, Philip O'Donoghue, the Dawson family, the Comries, Shane Hill, Linda Whatman, Feyi Akindoyeni, Erik Locke and many others who have gone out of their way to give me great support over the years.
I want to thank my own union, the AMWU, for their never-ending and never-yielding support. I thank the MUA, the CFMEU, the CPSU, the ETU, the CEPU and all of their officials and members. For me today it is incredibly important to recognise that unions play a vital role not only in upholding workplace rights but in defending and promoting the broad egalitarian values of our nation. Unions have been at the core of those values and they are needed in our country now more than ever.
I want to thank my family. I thank Greg, Fleur, Jammo, Nicholas, Alyce and, in particular, my mother, Sandra, who has always gone above and beyond to support me, including many weeks of handing out how-to-vote cards at remote and early polling places. I want to thank Dennis Liddelow and Stephen Dawson. And I want to pause to thank all of my wonderful colleagues in this place on both sides of the chamber. Your friendship, support and shared values have meant the world to me. I want to thank all of the parliamentary staff and officers who keep this amazing organisation moving.
It has been for me in the time I have been here an enormous privilege to work with people who, like me, are absolutely bursting with the conviction that they want to better the fabric of our great nation. I pay tribute, on that note, to my staff, current and past, for their time, talent, loyalty, fun and humour—their humour is not always in good taste, but never mind!—Justine Parker, Alanna Clohesy, Kate Deverall, Tania McCartney, Nicky McKimmie, Michael Hyde, Tony O'Gorman, David Scaife and a great many others who have volunteered their time and skills to me.
I want to thank my wonderful partner, Aram Hosie, for his love, care and support and for sharing what has been a demanding journey. Your own commitment to fighting for progressive and inclusive values has always been a wonderful inspiration to me.
I wish, of course, that I had had the opportunity to serve longer and to contribute more in this place, but it was not to be. The events surrounding the 2013 election—the recount and the rerun—brought home to me very clearly, as I am sure it did for many others in this place and throughout our community, how vitally important the integrity of our democratic processes really are and how vitally important it is to be able to have absolute confidence in the operation of the institutions and organisations that safeguard our democratic process in this nation and, indeed, the laws and regulations which govern it. Very often they have served us very well.
Unfortunately, last year that was not the case. My own personal disappointment is a minor thing, in my view, when set beside the potential for those events to undermine the trust and confidence in the electoral process which underpins the legitimacy of our parliament and our government. I will not be here in this place to be part of the discussions and debates about what steps need to be taken to ensure that what happened in Western Australia in 2013 never happens again, but I urge all of you, my soon-to-be former colleagues, and all of our colleagues in the other place to remember that the right of any government to enact any policies and of any parliament to legislate rests entirely on their democratic nature. As such, the highest priority must be that the election of governments and parliaments are fair and, indeed, are known to be fair.
I would also say, on that note, to members of my own party, whether parliamentarians or not, that fair, transparent and democratic processes within political parties are as important to the integrity of our system as are fair and transparent democratic elections. This is true not only for Labor, of course, but I have had very much a front row seat to the recent public failures of Labor in my own state of Western Australia to meet that important standard. I will be part of the state Labor conference in early July and I really hope that the prospect of reform is made a reality. It is a challenge that we simply must meet.
Again, my own personal disappointment is insignificant beside the consequences for our party, our members and, most importantly, the men and women around Australia who depend on us, on Labor, to defend their right to health care, to a fair day's pay for a fair day's work and for their children to get a quality education. There are consequences for all those who depend on Labor to defend all those rights which together make up the Australian 'fair go'. Too often, those who resist the democratic reform of our party characterise it as a distraction, a sideshow or us focusing on ourselves. As we have seen in Western Australia, that damages more than the party itself. It damages the hopes, aspirations and chances of those whom it is Labor's purpose to serve.
In Western Australia, those people are now facing the double impact of vicious cuts at both the state and federal levels. So when we look to the issue of electoral legitimacy we must also look to the fact that before both WA Senate elections our Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, promised no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no changes to pensions, no cuts to the ABC or SBS and no new taxes. But every one of these promises was broken in the first Hockey-Abbott budget. In other words, there is no mandate for these attacks and they have no democratic legitimacy.
Labor left government with low inflation, a million new jobs were created in the five years before the last election, there were low interest rates, net debt peaked at one-seventh of the level of other advanced economies, we have a AAA credit rating and we have superannuation savings that are larger than the size of our economy. But the budget before this parliament is simply the Abbott government's ideological blueprint for a less fair Australia—an Australia that has dismantled egalitarian values so the rich can grow richer and leave the rest of our country behind.
But these are not social or economic principles that work. Labor knows that squeezing the spending power of those on low and middle incomes means lower demand, which in turn is bad for growth in our economy. We also know that unequal access to education shuts people out of the Labor market and stops them from reaching their potential. We know that is bad, in turn, for economic efficiency. The existence of extreme disparities between rich and poor undermines social cohesion, it erodes cooperation and trust and it has grave negative consequences for productivity in our country. In my view, the abandonment of egalitarian values is not good for people and nor is it good for our economy. Egalitarian values have always underpinned Labor's approach to work, income, superannuation, retirement, health, education and more. There are hidden in the budget papers massive cuts to many of the NGOs that support community services in Western Australia. Hidden in the budget papers there is an $80 billion cut to our schools and hospitals—a cut for which there has been no consultation; not a shred of consultation and no forewarning or discussion. These cuts will compound what have already been devastating losses for the schools and hospitals of my state; they will hit household budgets, along with increased taxes and charges on a great many fronts.
It is, to me, an absolute disgrace that Colin Barnett has been so profoundly missing from the deep criticism directed at the Abbott government by state premiers about the impact of these cuts on our nation. Colin Barnett, as you can see from the cuts he has already made, is in lockstep ideologically with the federal coalition's abandonment of egalitarian values. The scale of the betrayal of these values is in my view unprecedented. It is a budget that will see the worst off in our community hit harder, not just in proportional terms but in absolute terms, than the best off. For example, low-income families with children are suffering reductions of between 10 and 15 per cent of their disposable income. A couple with two school-aged children earning $60,000 will stand to lose just over $6,000 while for those on $200,000 the impact is just $400. Think about that. In Joe Hockey's Australia, in Tony Abbott's Australia, the harder you are doing it the harder the coalition will slug you. That is why we have seen such anger in the Australian community over the unfairness of this budget. The issue is immediate and it remains white-hot.
This just goes to show how out of touch the Abbott government is in completely failing to realise that the fair go is a mainstream Australian value. They completely fail to realise that their hatred of Medicare is a minority view in our country, and they fail to realise that despite the best efforts of successive Liberal governments Australians care for their neighbours; they care for their workmates and their friends and not just for themselves. The government underestimates the innate Australian ethos of mateship, and it underestimates the capacity of Australians to extend that mateship beyond traditional limitations. It has been, in my opinion, an all too frequent failure of those who wish to imagine that others share their own narrow view of community—a view curtailed by income, by race, by gender or by sexual orientation.
I am presently on the left of my party. Those with my views are often characterised, kindly, as progressives or, less kindly, as radicals. Either term is used to marginalise us, to imply we are extreme or to suggest we are a minority. I have always found it ironic that the very views that led to my being labelled like that are exactly those views which are shared by the majority of the Australian population—although not by the majority of the Australian parliament. I support the end of discrimination in the Marriage Act—not because it affects me, although it does affect me, but because equal rights for all Australians has always been a touchstone for me, in all aspects of my political involvement. I can assure you that that will remain the case in the future. More than 65 per cent of Australians agree with me. If this parliament truly reflected the views of those who elect us, marriage equality would be a reality.
I support the right of women to make their own reproductive choices and not have government make those choices for them—and 80 per cent of Australians agree with me. I have been equally opposed to laws that force women to bear children when they do not want to and laws intended to prevent women from bearing children when they wish to. Pro choice means the right to choose, and I am profoundly grateful that I have been able to choose motherhood. I participated in amending laws intended to prevent women like me from accessing the same medical care as married women. I did that back in 2001 in the state parliament. Laws were finally changed in Victoria in 2010, finally giving women like me, regardless of their marital status, regardless of the gender of our partners or whether we have partners at all, access to the same legal rights to treatment as married women in this country. Despite attempts to characterise views such as mine as radical, every piece of research in this country demonstrates that these views are shared by a majority of Australians. They are mainstream views, and it is those who deny them that are the extremists in our country. It remains a great disappointment to me that my party still contains a small rump of those extremists who exercise, in my view, power far in excess of their number, and most certainly in excess of their support among our party's members and among our party's unions.
I have spent my time in this place—indeed, my whole involvement in the Labor Party—working to fulfil my commitment to making this country a better place. It is a long-held and never-finished task, as a great Labor Prime Minister once said. He said:
To promote equality, involve the people of Australia in the decision-making processes of our land; and liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people.
For me, motherhood will not change that. In fact, as I anticipate parenthood I feel more commitment, more dedication and more urgency about the task of making this country one where all of us enjoy equal rights and equal protection before the law, where a helping hand and a fair go are for all, regardless of where you live or who your parents are. As I think of the country that my child will live in—the future they will see—I am more certain than ever that we cannot argue any more, that the problems that affect the rest of the world can be stopped at our borders. We are more interconnected that at any time in human history; surely the global financial crisis taught us that. Surely the challenge of our changing climate shows us that. And surely the plight of refugees who have made their way to our shores also shows us that.
If we want a better Australia, we must do our part as global citizens to build and create a better world, and we must appreciate that we cannot do it alone, either. Our national interest demands that we be engaged global citizens, that we take part in genuine international cooperation and that we take our share of responsibility for addressing climate change and for addressing inequality both in and outside our nation's borders. And it demands that we learn as well as teach.
In the months and years ahead, this place will see these and other great challenges for our country and our community discussed and debated. I have to say that my faith in our democracy is strong enough for me to say that perhaps they will even be resolved. I leave those endeavours in your hands, my friends, and in the hands of those who are soon to join this chamber. I wish you well, I wish you success, and I wish you to see clearly the real needs and aspirations of those who should be the highest aim of our parliament. That is the Australian people. My own efforts to this end will be in other places in the months and years ahead, but I promise you that they will not cease.
I thank everyone for their patience this afternoon. It has been a long afternoon.
The art of oratory is to be concise and precise—and we have excellent models to follow. The Lord's Prayer is a mere 69 words long, the Declaration of Independence is but 297 words and the apology to our stolen people is 360 words long. I will do my best to emulate these great examples and the words of President Franklin D Roosevelt: 'Be sincere. Be brief. Be seated.'
I acknowledge all of my colleagues who are retiring on 30 June and thank them for their friendship and support. We work very closely together as a team here. People outside of parliament do not perhaps understand the friendships we develop. I wish you all good luck in your future endeavours.
When I was elected to the Senate in 2001, I knew my work was going to be challenging and exciting, but I did not for one minute anticipate that it was going to be so much fun. The truth is that I have thoroughly enjoyed the long hours—believe it or not—the intellectual challenges, the hard-fought battles, the small victories and the many friendships that, as I said, have defined my time here.
We have heard from others today and during the week about their mixed feelings in leaving this place, their relief at having the chance to pursue other interests and opportunities being tempered by their sense of loss at the chance to continue contributing to the national debate. As you might expect, I agree with that ambivalence.
But my overwhelming feeling, like that of many colleagues we have heard from today, about my political term coming to an end is one of gratitude—to the Australian Labor Party of course and to the people of New South Wales—that I have had the good fortune to spend the past 12 years devoted to advancing the quality of life of all Australians. Not only is this a great cause, but where else would I work on a daily basis with such a diverse group of bright, highly motivated people and where else would I get to measure my accomplishments by the success of my colleagues and by the work that they do to create a better world for everyone?
We hear almost daily the most cynical remarks about political life and about how disengaged the younger generations are. But I would like to take this opportunity to recommend a life of political leadership to young Australians, especially to young women—and, more especially still, to young Labor women. I remind them of the wise words of Pericles:
Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.
Although I must warn you, colleagues, that the young are getting younger—as we can hear from up there in the gallery.
I was talking to some young school leaders recently and I asked them what the most significant event in their life thus far had been. I was quite taken aback when they said, 'Facebook, smartphones and wi-fi'. When I asked, 'What about September 11?', they said, 'We would only have been three or four at the time, so we don't really remember that.'
We need to remember that fact—that what shapes future policy will be the needs and the aspirations of these generations—those whose memories are not embedded in stories of war and constitutional or economic crises. At one of two generations removed from the formative influences of our lives, they have very different expectations and aspirations. I want to assure them, though, that politics is the most fulfilling and satisfying endeavour—and we need them to be involved.
But a politician can only do so much. We quickly realise that, however much any one individual can achieve, it cannot compare with the power and the passion of a band of willing, public-spirited people determined to bring about change. Several such people are here with us this this evening and they represent the sector of our society that works in the hardest and darkest places: dealing with refugees and asylum seekers, with poverty, homelessness, addiction and mental illness, both here and abroad. We need to cherish and encourage these people who spend their lives in the service of the most needy. I am very grateful that I have had the opportunity to work with all of you and I salute you all for your dedication and commitment.
The poor may always be with us, but I have no patience with the idea of dividing those in need into 'deserving' and 'undeserving' categories. One thing is clear to me: however tough the challenge, we have no choice but to look after each other. On the way to work last week, the traffic was delayed because a duck had been hit and injured by a car—it could only happen in Canberra. What held us up was not the wounded duck; it was its companion. Despite all the traffic and the fog and the danger, the duck hovered over its fellow creature, concerned for its wellbeing. I thought to myself: yes, even a duck looks after its mate.
Last week's report from the UNHCR found that for the first time since 1945, at the end of World War II, there are now more than 51.2 million people displaced from their homes across the world. In other words, the number of people forcibly displaced today is almost double the entire population of Australia. On top of refugees, last year 1.1 million people applied for asylum in developed countries, and a record 25,300 of these asylum applications were for children who were separated from or unaccompanied by parents. We simply cannot be apathetic in the face of the mass suffering that is reflected in these figures. It is playing out on our television screens every day as we witness the unspeakable abuses around the world—in Iraq, in Syria, in Nigeria and in the Central African Republic, to name a few. While we debate, lives are being systematically and brutally destroyed.
Here in Australia we are hiding serious human rights violations of refugees and asylum seekers at our offshore processing centres. We are not the only country falling short of our human rights obligations. The USA, with all its resources and wealth, resettled only 36 Syrian refugees last year. In contrast, Germany took 25,500 people from Syria. Neither China nor Russia resettled even one refugee last year.
So how on earth did we get to this. Dame Mary Gilmore, in her poem called Nationality, which many of us learnt at school, puts her finger on the nub of the problem. Let me remind you of it:
I have grown past hate and bitterness,
I see the world as one;
But though I can no longer hate,
My son is still my son.
All men at God’s round table sit,
and all men must be fed;
But this loaf in my hand,
This loaf is my son’s bread.
The truth is that we are at a point now where we must find a way, somehow, to feed our own son and also look after our fellow human beings in need.
Of course, intervention always has its consequences, but we need to remember that inaction has consequences, too. This is as important for me in my post-political life as it is for all of you my parliamentary colleagues, and indeed for all Australians. It is a mark of our dignity as human beings not to turn our faces away from the challenges that lie before us, but to go ahead and meet them.
I have always believed that most people want to and need to contribute to making a better world, and that an essential part of my political responsibility was to help remove whatever barriers might be preventing them from achieving their aspirations. I know that when barriers are removed and people succeed and thrive the rewards are immense, for them and for all of us. I know, too, that for programs and services to be more efficient and more effective in public policy terms they need to fit the people we are, rather than expect people to mould themselves to structures that comprise what is an inflexible service system. That is the underpinning principle of citizen-centred service delivery and social inclusion best encapsulated in our vision for the NDIS.
You know that I have never been an adversarial politician. Instead, I believe in the power and potential of respectful negotiation, collaboration and relationship building. Even in defeat everything worth working for takes time, effort, commitment and the determination not to give up simply because it is a long, hard road.
I recently met a doctor who reminded me that in fact we had met before, over 20 years ago. That was when he was a young Indigenous lad facing a bleak future. I had enrolled him in a program that blended academic skills with life skills, fitness, and driver training. As a result of his efforts he gained entry into the police academy. He rose to the rank of senior sergeant before deciding a few years ago to train as a psychiatrist. He is now completing his medical registrar's course. I am telling this story because I am so proud of his efforts, and because I am glad that I was able to play a small part in helping to remove the barriers so likely to prevent him from realising his potential—his Aboriginality, his poverty, his upbringing in a remote part of Australia, and his low level of education. But there is still so much work to be done, both inside parliament and in the wider world, to protect the interests of people just like that young man.
I believe that the key to meeting these challenges is education. I have an unshakable belief in its intrinsic value in helping each individual to sustain a rich inner life, its value in opening up opportunities to people whose existence might otherwise be severely curtailed, and, on a broader scale, of course, its value to the fabric of our society. Indeed, education has been the common thread in all I have done in my own life, here, in teaching children and adults, in consulting, in the public service and in undertaking research—and that will continue.
As a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence and Security, I have loved the complexity, the intellectual rigour and the privilege of working in areas of national security, and also the perennial debate we have here about balancing national security interests with the privacy of individuals. But I have to say I was caught off guard, literally, when I bumped into the Director of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation in a local coffee shop in Goulburn last weekend. However, he reassured me my secret was safe with him.
We do not have many chances in our political life to be at the beginning of something and to see it through. So I am also very proud of the work done in establishing the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, and to have been part of that committee since its inception, shaping the way in which it would work, would educate you as our colleagues and would consider our national legislation through the new lens of international human rights.
Unfortunately, that cannot be said for the work that I have been involved in over many years in the space of charity law reform and strengthening the not-for-profit sector, because the Abbott government identified early that it would abolish the ACNC—the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. I cannot understand why, given that it emerged from the original calls across the board in the Industry Commission of the 1990s, was repeated again in a series of parliamentary inquiries, and by the 2010 Australian Productivity Commission. For the sector, the abolition of the ACNC represents a backward step, unravelling the reform that provided greater transparency and better administration. Frankly, this is one election promise that the government could break with good grace.
So I am leaving some unfinished business for the new Senate: how best to meet the structural challenges of the social economy; how to invest in the workforce; and how to strengthen the financial capacity of the sector. These are important policy and service challenges for the future.
Australia's place in the world is reflected through our foreign policy. My work on the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade have taken me to all corners of the world, physically and metaphorically. None of us here underestimates the importance of our committee work.
The foreign affairs committees and their subcommittees are charged with strengthening our interactions with the diplomatic corps, and dealing with issues that underpin Australia's relationships with the rest of the world. The current inquiry by the Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub-Committee is a case in point, bringing us into close contact with multinational organisations, businesses and global initiatives. It highlights too the interaction and interdependence of our foreign policy and the role of our Defence services.
We have so much to be proud of, but we also have a responsibility. We have a responsibility to shine a light into the dark corners that have been the behaviours of our government agencies and our institutions, and we should not shy away from that and what it reveals.
Friends and colleagues, some of my memories that will endure from my time here include: my first Senate hearing of the Legal and Constitutional the Affairs Committee, not here but on Elcho Island; the Bali Memorial Service in the Great Hall that brought so many of us to tears; the apology to the stolen generations and the subsequent apology to the forgotten Australians; and our most recent work on the joint committee on the NDIS.
I leave knowing that everything that I have done here I have tried to do on the basis of principle. There are constant and ongoing efforts to sway, to duchess, and to compromise us as politicians. But as others have said—in their own way—the only worthwhile contributions we can make to this place are by being true to our beliefs; not by wavering in the breeze, or being for sale to the highest bidder.
Of course, our work is not confined to Canberra. And the thrill of meeting popes or poets, presidents or princesses goes nowhere near the enduring satisfaction of working hard for a constituent to resolve an intractable issue, like the recent success of my year-long advocacy in unravelling the poorly managed family reunion application of a Somali constituent. He hadn't seen his eight-year-old son since he was a baby, but finally, through the persistence of my staff and the support of departmental officials, the family was reunited in Sydney.
Friends, it was Barack Obama who reminded us that, 'All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time'. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart or whether we commit ourselves to an effort, a sustained effort, to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children and to respect the dignity of all human beings. Well, our work in this place is meaningful because, like the ducks, we are not meant to go it alone—we need each other. And certainly I have enjoyed generous support and wise counsel from my political colleagues and I thank you all. Thank you too, to my staff, collaborators, mentors, friends and family, and the extended NSW Labor family for helping to make my Senate career both memorable and rewarding.
So what next for citizen Stephens? Well, it is home to the country for me for a while. I love country life and feel very much a part of my Goulburn community. I'll continue to be involved in Labor politics because I have always believed that conservative governments have to be held to account. That is the role for us in Labor in opposition at the moment: to embrace change without ever compromising our values or diluting our principles. This is true not just for our elected representatives but also for the rank and file members whose lives are conducted far from this lovely building.
So, I plan to use my experience to continue working for the cause of justice both here in Australia and internationally through contributions to the work of the United Nations Development Programme and as a member of the Advisory Board of the International Humanitarian Centre. I still derive enjoyment from teaching, mentoring and writing, and plan to do all these from time to time; however, I promise there is no political memoir in the pipeline.
I want make sure that the next chapter of my life allows me plenty of time to spend with the ever-patient Bob—who is here tonight—with our children and our wonderful, noisy, boisterous grandchildren, Gabriel—who is up there—Xavier, Adele, beautiful baby James and No. 5, who is about to arrive very soon.
My sincere thanks and farewell to everyone who supports the work we do here: from Tim and the staff in the Members and Guests Dining Room, to the hardworking Broadcasting staff beavering in the basement and everyone in between, Ian and Peter in Senate transport and the crazy troupe of Comcar drivers, the attendants, librarians, cleaners, Hansard, security, mail, committees and, of course, the officers of the Senate. You all provide extraordinary service to this place and, don't forget, through your work to the Australian people. Thank you—or as the Irish would say, as a tip to the Irish ambassador: Go raibh mile maith agaibh.
Mr President, as you know, it is the gift of the Irish to always have a snatch of poetry or the fragment of a song running in our heads for every occasion. We are all familiar with the lovely Irish blessing, 'May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back.' That is not the one I have chosen for today. Today I have chosen a personal favourite:
Of all the comrades e'er I had
They are sorry for my going away
And for all the comrades e'er I had
They would wish me one more day to stay
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should go and you should not
So fill to me the parting glass
Goodnight and joy be to you all.
Tonight the Senate farewells a quadrella of very different but very proud Labor warriors. All have enhanced the reputation of the noble pursuit of being involved in public life. All four of them have fallen on the battlefield of the public ideals in which they believe—not a pleasant experience but, if I might say, very honourable. People fall on both sides courtesy of the ballot box. I have been there in failed attempts to get into this place and have some understanding of what it is like. The willingness to put yourself up and to argue for a cause with your fellow Australians is a most noble cause. On behalf of the coalition, I acknowledge the four senators' contributions.
Can I also say that it was an absolute treat to be able to sit in this place for about 1½ hours and listen to speeches without a single interjection from Senator Wong, Senator Carr, Senator Conroy or Senator Lines. It was absolutely a treat.
Can I turn quickly to the four individual senators in order of their presentation this evening. Senator Tillem has not been with us for very long and I confess I did not get to know him very well. He has been with us, one could say, for only eight months but, interestingly, that is by no means the shortest term a senator has served. I am reliably informed that a senator came in on a casual vacancy and served less than half of that time. We wish Senator Tillem all the best in the next chapter of his life and in politics. I think that he hinted we might not know what is around the corner but whatever he endeavours to do, we on this side wish him well.
I turn to the Senator Lin Thorp, a fellow Tasmanian. She did lose me when she was starting to extol the virtues of the Whitlam government. But she won me back again when she talked about the wonders of Tasmania and her love for our home state of Tasmania. Senator Thorp, as she showed at question time and take note of answers today, is feisty to the very end in the cause in which she believes. Personally, but also on behalf of the coalition, I wish Senator Thorp well.
Senator Thorp, like Senator Pratt, served in the upper house of her state, I understand, before coming to the Senate so both of these senators have the great credit of not having sullied themselves by being involved in the lower houses of the parliaments in the state or federally. Senator Pratt—you will not be surprised to know—there was not much that I could identify with in your comments. But I think the underlying point that you made, which is vitally important irrespective of what our beliefs might be, is that we need absolute integrity in the electoral system and, if I might say, you made that point exceptionally well. Having had the experience that you did and the trauma of living through that and the uncertainty of an election night, a recount and then a re-election, really, I think you are qualified to make comments about those matters. For the sake of our parliament and our democracy everybody, irrespective of what their views are, have to be able to have confidence that the result that is delivered is a fair one and reflective of the vote, and you advocated that point exceptionally well.
Last but by no means least, can I turn to Senator Ursula Stevens. She has had a particular interest in social inclusion and the voluntary sector and, I note, she has served as parliamentary secretary in that area assisting the former Prime Minister Rudd. She has been an effective committee member and has stood up for strong sound social values, and that has certainly been noted by me and by many others in this place.
I had some prepared notes here which said: Senator Stephens has also brought poetry into the pages of Hansard. She did not disappoint tonight, but I do confess that we were not expecting her to break out into song! Can I simply say, thank goodness you have got an excellent singing voice because, if I were to try to emulate you, it would not be half as melodic as your contribution. Your poetry did lighten the debates from time to time and you brought that special characteristic to many a parliamentary comment. You were a great advocate for the regional areas of Australia and you have indicated that you look forward to going back to country life after your retirement from this place.
Can I also acknowledge on a personal basis that there are many people in both houses that are very appreciative of your presidency of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship and the work that you undertook for the church service that commences the parliamentary year and also the National Prayer Breakfast. These are vitally important for the maintenance of the rich heritage and the social fabric of our society and those values and beliefs are in fact the bedrock of our society. I close by wishing all four senators on behalf of the coalition all the very best for the future. We wish you good health and happiness as you go forward in whatever life may hold for you. All the best.
I rise as Leader of the Opposition to regretfully farewell four of my colleagues, four of our Labor team who we will all miss greatly. It is not possible in the time frame to do justice to the length and quality of service that is departing at the conclusion this term, nor is it possible to follow up Senator Stephens's contribution and look reasonable so I shall just add a few notes of comment.
First to Senator Tillem. As others have said Senator Tillem was appointed to the Senate in August last year. I do want to say that he has made an extremely valuable contribution even in the short time he has served in this place. I was struck by Senator Tillem's first speech which I thought was both thoughtful and moving. He spoke very movingly of multiculturalism and diversity, a great contribution to this chamber but also to public debate. In a place like Parliament House, Canberra, which is not unknown for people having a bit of ego, he is also a senator who is often unassuming and quiet, and he has demonstrated a real professionalism and willingness to learn and apply himself in the time he has been here. He also has been an enrichment to the cultural diversity of this chamber and this parliament, which is always welcome.
As he said, he claims his place in history as the first person of Turkish origin to serve in the Australian parliament and the first Muslim member of the Senate. His is a story that should be at home in today's Australia—certainly at home in the Australian Labor Party—given his background of his family's migration from Turkey, his parents' working in factories and living in public accommodation in Melbourne. A man from such humble origins who has risen to become a member of the Australian Senate is a testament to the aspiration of egalitarianism in the Australian democracy. I hope he returns one day to this place, and I say to my colleagues in Victoria that, if the Victorian branch of the ALP and the Victorian people re-endorse him in any capacity, I certainly would look forward to welcoming him back to Labor's parliamentary team.
I turn now to Senator Thorp, who also has only been in this place a short time but has had a much longer career representing Tasmanians. She has, as she said in her speech, substantial prior service, having served in the Tasmanian Legislative Council from 1999 to 2011. This is a substantial period of service, both on the back bench and, of course, as a minister. She brought important experience to the Australian Senate from that work. But what I want to emphasise is that Senator Thorp's life experiences, coming from a working class family and as a high school teacher and a teacher of young women from disadvantaged backgrounds, ensured that she came to this chamber not only as an advocate for Tasmania—and we heard some of that in her speech—but also as someone who understands the role that poverty, disadvantage and family dysfunction play in preventing people from reaching their potential.
She spoke in her speech about those who are not blessed and about the need for government to do what we must do to ensure people can rise above their circumstances. She is a passionate advocate for social justice and a passionate advocate and worker against inequality, and she spoke in her contribution tonight about the effect of inequality on community, on society and, of course, on our economy. It is disappointing for us that we lose her experience at a time when we are fighting a budget which, I think, has inequality at its heart. We certainly thank her for her contribution to the Senate and we wish her well for the future.
I turn now to my friend and colleague Louise Pratt, who enjoys the distinction of having arrived here to find Labor in government. As she said, she took her place here from 1 July 2008, bringing with her her experience as a member of the Legislative Council in Western Australia. I understand—I did not know this until I looked in more detail at her career—that she was one of the youngest members of the Legislative Council in Western Australian history. She was 29 years old when she was elected. We have talked previously about how hard life is for Western Australian politicians, and you have to say that, given the travel and stresses and strains, some might look at Senator Pratt's decision to leave the Western Australian parliament to come to Canberra as being a pretty tough decision, but we are very glad that she did. In the term that Senator Pratt has served, she has made a deeply valued contribution to the work of the ALP and to the Senate. She currently serves on the front bench. She has performed valuable work in committees. Her reflections tonight on democracy, on the economy and on egalitarianism reflect her values.
But perhaps the most significant area of her advocacy has been in the area of discrimination, particularly where it concerns LGBTI Australians. She reminded us again tonight of the powerful principle of equality, and I want to say this in this place: we all know that being different is never easy, but being gay in this parliament and open about it is certainly not easy; it takes a degree of courage, and I thank her for that. As I said, she made an enormous contribution in her advocacy for equality. I would commend those who wish to to look at her contribution on the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 in this place last year where she spoke of the experience of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians and the fact that it was unbelievable that those Australians could still be legally discriminated against under Commonwealth law. She also spoke about the important reforms that the Labor government had introduced, in which she played a part. The achievements of Labor in removing inequality when it comes to LGBTI Australians would not have been possible without the advocacy, support and courage of Senator Pratt. We thank her for that, and we wish her well as she prepares for the new arrival. I am sure that in the months ahead she will not have time to think about us at all.
Finally, Senator Stephens and I came into this place together. We were probably a little thinner and less grey—yes? I suspect she actually looks a lot better than I do, compared to when we came in. It is quite difficult to farewell someone with whom you were elected. I was thinking as you were speaking, Senator Stephens, about the training day that we had. I think you probably had been here before and I had not. I was thinking about how overwhelming it felt to learn about what it meant to be a senator and to stand up and be given a little motion to read and to learn all about that. So we have certainly, some would say, come a long way in that time.
Senator Stephens, at the conclusion of her speech, spoke about loving her life in the country and feeling part of the Goulburn community. If you look at her first speech on the chamber, she reminded us then that she was the only member of the parliament formally elected under the banner of Country Labor and how determined she was to give a voice to the many regional and rural communities that had been abandoned by the National Party—forgive me, I am quoting of course! Senator Stephens certainly has provided a direct voice for her community. Labor is poorer for her departure, and so is the Senate.
There are a number of things about Senator Stephens that I would like to remark upon, some of which were referenced in her speech. First, there is the work she has done over so many years, and in such depth, in relation to the third sector, the voluntary sector, which I think she described as 'those who work in the deepest darkest places'. She has made a great contribution to the nation and to Labor. She is a woman of compassion, as was demonstrated again tonight in her discussion of the situation confronting so many of the world's refugees. Markedly, she chose to speak to young women in her speech and invite and encourage more young women to seek a career in politics.
Senator Stephens is known for her love of literature and poetry. Her speech tonight went from Pericles to Dame Mary Gilmore and many others—I do not know that there are many members of the Senate who could give such a speech—and she ended in song, which was a lovely touch. She is a woman of principle and a woman of belief. She has real generosity of spirit and has brought real graciousness to her service in the Senate. I thank her for a service.
In closing, I thank my departing colleagues for their contribution. With apologies to Senator Tillem, we are saying goodbye to three feisty Labor women and we are a party that takes very seriously the importance of ensuring that we reflect the community in our representation. It is sad to see three strong women leaving these seats. Every senator who spoke tonight talked about the enormous privilege they have been given in serving as a Labor senator in this place. I think that says something about our party and about all of you. Thank you.
I rise on behalf of the National Party to respond to the valedictory speeches of four senators who are leaving this place. Given the number of colleagues who want to make a contribution, I will speak only in relation to Senator Stephens. I have chosen to speak about Senator Stephens because we both came to this place in 2001. Senators Tillem, Pratt and Thorpe, I hope you will understand. I seek leave to incorporate into Hansard three valedictory speeches in relation to Senators Tillem, Pratt and Thorpe.
The speeches read as follows—
Senator Mehmet Tillem
While Senator Tillem's time in the Senate has only been brief, as he was chosen by the Parliament of Victoria on 21 August 2013 to represent that State in the Senate, his inclusion in this place is noteworthy.
Senator Tillem is the first Turkish born Member of Parliament. His work in the Senate must be a source of much pride to him and his family, having come to Australia at a young age.
The multicultural nature of the Australian Parliament is something that Senator Tillem has always praised.
In December 2013, in pointing to the diversity of immigrant backgrounds in the Parliament, Senator Tillem stated, "yet we are all Australians, sharing common Australian values, sharing common civic responsibilities, and all working for the benefit of our common homeland". And he added, "That's one of the things that give me faith in the future of this country"; focusing on the things that unite us all as Australians.
He has also had a strong interest in other issues such as boosting organ donations in Australia and the wider issue of housing affordability.
It is with regret that we see a champion for those with immigrant backgrounds and their ability to make a difference, leave the Senate but on behalf of the National Party, we all wish you well in your new endeavours and congratulate on your achievements.
Senator Louise Pratt
Senator Louise Pratt was elected as Senator for Western Australia in 2007 and prior to that served as a member of the Western Australian Legislative Council from 2001 to 2007; and at the time was the youngest woman ever elected to the Legislative Council.
A member of the Legislative Council she made an enormous contribution as part of her appointment to a Ministerial committee on gay and lesbian reform to make recommendations regarding the elimination of discrimination in state law.
After being elected to the Senate, she has always been a strong voice of support for diversity, including for marriage equality.
In the face of intrusions into her personal life, Senator Pratt has always maintained a dignified stance, and instead of taking offence, has demonstrated an admirable tolerance —tolerance being what she has fought hard for, regardless of a person's sexuality— and regardless of those whose views she does not share.
I do believe she has assisted to generate greater awareness of the importance of respecting diversity in Australian society.
I would also like to highlight the breadth of Senator Pratt's contribution via her Committee service in the Parliament, including being a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, the Standing Committee on Economics, and the Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts, among others. She has also had a strong interest in policy issues involving foreign aid, immigration, social inclusion and workforce participation.
In her maiden speech in the Senate, Senator Pratt spoke of her experience in being struck by the deep disadvantage she saw facing Indigenous people in communities in the Land north of Kalgoorlie from where Senator Pratt hails. And she acknowledged that real leadership would be needed to address the inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and non-Aboriginal Australians.
While she has not always supported Conservative governments' approach to disadvantage in Indigenous communities, I know that her concern with issues of substance abuse, violence and reconciliation are genuine.
Senator Pratt, I wish you well in your new life. I congratulate you and your partner, Aram Hosie, on the impending birth of your much wanted child later this year. We all wish you and your family all the very best.
Senator the Hon Lin Thorp
Senator Thorp was first elected to the Tasmanian Legislative Council for Rumney in 1999 and served in key portfolios as Minister for Education and Skills; Minister for Children; and Minister for Police and Emergency Management. Prior to entering politics she served as a Teacher for 22 years, as well as working as a Health Research Consultant and a Medical School Consultant.
She was chosen by the Parliament of Tasmania on 20 June 2012 to represent that State in the Senate. Since that time she has served on several Committees.
There is no doubting Senator Thorp's commitment to the State of Tasmania, even if we on this side see some of her efforts regarding Tasmania's World Heritage Area, misguided.
In addition, Senator Thorpe has been a proponent of those suffering with dementia — an illness that is having an increasing impact on families and communities across society.
Senator Thorp I wish you, on behalf of the National Party, all the very best for your future.
Senator Stephens, I think we are all surprised that the vagaries of democracy now see you leaving this place. If the people across New South Wales had known that their scribblings on a ballot paper would lead to this, they might have put the mark in a different place. Regardless of our different political views, you have always conducted yourself in a dignified manner in this chamber and to great effect. This has seen people actively pursue some of the philosophies that you do. You have been engaging and you have demonstrated qualities that we should all aspire to—not being adversarial but seeking to negotiate and find a compromise.
You have been actively engaged in grassroots politics. I was surprised in 2001 when I asked you if you were in the Labor Party and you said, 'No, I'm in Country Labor.' I thought there was perhaps an additional party here! Parliamentarians who come from the country are judged every day; there are not many trees and buildings to hide behind; you are very visible in your own community. A lot of your work relates to community development in some of your own communities—adult and community education, social justice and environment issues—and I think that goes back some 30 years.
Senator Stephens served on numerous committees in the parliament. She has been a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights since its formation; in fact, she was the substantial driving force behind its formation. I think in acknowledging the work of former member Alby Schultz you graciously said, 'To give him credit, he is a very experienced, connected parish-pump politician.' Those very same words aptly describe the kind of politician that you yourself are—a tireless worker for your constituents. Under the former government, you served as parliamentary secretary for social inclusion and the voluntary sector. You were involved in the national compact, a national volunteering strategy and a program of regulatory reform leading to the establishment of Australia's first national charities register—the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission—which came into effect in 2012. And prior to 2007 you served in a number of roles, including parliamentary secretary for science and water and parliamentary secretary for regional development.
Senator Stephens, we were all a bit confused when you are not a part of the frontbench line-up in the Gillard government—and I know that was met with some regret and sadness and by the not-for-profit sector. You had invested a lot of effort in this important area, and clearly you had become their champion in the parliament. Your engagement with community organisations and your skills in ensuring that diverse voices are heard, has clearly been identified as second to none. You have a genuine concern for anyone excluded from society. Senator Stephens's interest in community service also extended to mental health, and she helped form Parliamentary Friends of Schizophrenia to raise awareness of the disease.
Senator Stephens, you have been a delightful colleague. The teaching profession lost a gifted educator when you came to the Senate. But it was our gain, and indeed Australia's gain, and I know you will be missed from across the political divide. I am sure you will continue to make a valuable contribution to the community because that is who you are.
I just want to concur with so many of the remarks that have been made tonight, particularly in relation to my four colleagues who are leaving. Senator Tillem, as people have noted, has only been here for a short time. But he has certainly left his mark on this chamber, and particularly on his colleagues on this side of the chamber.
To Senator Pratt and Senator Thorp: we do not always see eye to eye on some issues, but I respect your views. I respect the fact that you have come to this place and made an outstanding contribution to the Australian Senate and, more importantly, you have made a great contribution to our community.
Senator Thorp, as a fellow Tasmanian, your passion has always been evident and I thank you for that. I particularly thank you for the work that you did on the supertrawler and the stopping of that. As a recreational fishing person, as well as your Labor colleague, I have to say that that was an important issue and, unfortunately, I do not think that fight is over yet.
Not only have you made that contribution here in the Senate, but I acknowledge the work that you did in the Tasmanian Legislative Council. I know that you will always be there as a Labor person, who will be there to support not only young women coming forward but other young people as they enter our parliament. So thank you and I pay you my respects.
I will not tell the whole story about Senator Stephens, but she was my chamber buddy when I first came to this place. I will leave it at that! Your passion, your enthusiasm and your friendship helped me in those early days and I want to thank you for that. We shared some good times and we have shared some very passionate discussions about issues that are important to the Australian community. I want to thank you, too, because you do enter every debate and you respect those people who have a different view. I think we in this chamber must always remember, whether you are on the other side, on the crossbenches or here, that we are all here to do the very best we can for the Australian community. We must always value and respect other people's points of view. That is what a tolerant Australia is all about.
I know other colleagues here want to touch more on the contributions that each and every one of you has made to the Australian community, but I want to thank you for your friendship. Tasmania's doors are always open, so our hospitality is extended to you. I appreciate your friendship. You particularly, Ursula, have been a good friend and I wish you and Bob good health and a good life going forward.
I would also like to make a short contribution to the departing senators in this valedictory speech. Many of you know—I am not sure if you all know—that Senator Lin Thorp and I are friends. We have been friends since 1992, when she stood for the Labor Party at the state election. She was unsuccessful at that time and we went on to work together as part of former senator Sue Mackay's first intake of staff.
We were also lucky enough to form a club at that time, the Thunderbirds. I would love to be able to tell you what the Thunderbirds is all about, but it is a very exclusive club. One thing that binds the Thunderbirds together is their deep commitment to one another and their support for one another. I think that Lin's speech today—and what could be her last speech to the Senate—said exactly what Lin Thorp is all about. Her speech today was all about putting on record her desires for the world and Australia, those desires being for a fair, just and equitable Australia and world. Those are the principles that Lin has always stood by.
Lin has never been in parliamentary life for herself. She has always been in parliamentary life for what she can do for others, what she can do for her community. And that is what I have always loved about Lin. You always know, from whatever position she is coming from, that it is a position she has thought deeply about and it is a position that she has taken that she believes will benefit our country and Tasmania. She loves Tasmania, as all Tasmania senators do, and anyone who has been privileged enough to visit Tasmania would know that we are indeed the best state in the Commonwealth.
Lin is also a very even-tempered senator. I would say that there would not be many in here who would have ever seen Lin riled. It would be a rare occasion. In fact, it is hard for me to remember an occasion. She is very even tempered and very respectful of other people's views. But I did see her quite riled once and this was when she was one of the very first people to be chucked out of the state parliament—by none other than Senator Polley's brother, Michael Polley! We have got rid of him, anyway. Senator Thorp at that time asked the former speaker, Michael Polley, whether he actually had the right to do that. Unfortunately, he does and he did. Lin also talked about the fact that she has only been here in the Senate for a short time, unfortunately.
I have to say, I feel that a large majority of the community and the media do not acknowledge the work of the Senate committee system or understand it. There is a lot of work that is done by all the senators in this place on committees that go on to provide valuable work and valuable recommendations that inform the policies and decision making of governments. Only today, we saw Lin's work as the chair of the Environment and Communications References Committee actually have an effect. It not only had an effect here in Australia but also internationally when we saw the World Heritage Committee rejecting the application of the government in terms of their efforts to delist the World Heritage Area in Tasmania. There are not many senators who have had their work and their reports quoted as a part of the World Heritage Committee's reasoning to reject what was an important issue for Australia and Tasmania.
I thank you, Lin, for that, and I thank you for your friendship. Also, Lin mentioned that we lived together up here. For the majority of the time, we lived together with Julie Collins, the member the Franklin, in Oxley Court. The very first day we lived together in a two-bedroom apartment, with two single beds and a double bed, Lin and I got buddied up together. It was a terrible night from me, because of the noises! She talks in her sleep, she argues and she has a clock that tick-tocks. The next day, Lin was unceremoniously chucked out of my bedroom. We put her in the double and Julie had to come and sleep with me. We had fun there. We had fun together and we had many times when we would go home and talk about what had happened in the Senate and in the House of Representatives.
Lin also gave me my first shock, as I suppose I should call it. Lin has now only been here for two years. Quite frankly, since at that point in time she crossed the floor and voted with the then opposition, I am actually surprised she lasted that long! Lin accidentally crossed the floor and voted with the opposition. That was when I was acting whip. I was never acting whip ever again. I am very proud to have served with Lin Thorp in the Senate. I am very proud to have been her friend for so many years, and I wish Lin all the best. I wish her, Toby and her family all the best. She has done a great job. She should be proud. She should be proud of the work she has done here and the work she did in the upper house in Tasmania both as a member and as a state minister. We will miss you. I will miss you and I am sure many others of your colleagues will.
I would like to say a few words about Senator Pratt, who is my buddy here.
She is not a very good buddy, I have to say! She is right into technology, so she does not really talk very much. I just want to put on record that from the very first moment I met Louise she was right into pushing for those issues and for those groups that were marginalised in the community. She never stopped. I do not expect her to ever stop until we have achieved what we have set out to achieve. Louise has been heavily involved in social justice issues, LGBTI issues, community groups and Indigenous groups. She is passionate, as she said in her contribution here today, about equal rights. That, of course, comes to marriage equality.
We have had some ups and downs in terms of the Labor Party when we come to marriage equality. We have had some downs in terms of the legislation that has been introduced in the parliament on marriage equality, of which Louise was a sponsoring senator. As Senator Penny Wong said at the time, 'We might not win the vote here today, but we are on the side of right.' I can assure Louise—and I know that Louise will be there with us—that we will pursue this issue until the right thing is done and there is true equality in Australia regardless of one's sexuality. I would also like to wish Louise and Aram well into the future. I wish her well with the impending birth of her child. I know that when her baby arrives, that is when the joy will commence. It has been a privilege knowing you as Senator Louise Pratt, but I also look forward to knowing you as Louise my friend into the future.
Before I finish, I would like to just touch on Ursula Stephens. I was tempted to do a little limerick, but Ursula is such a hard name to rhyme. All I would like to say to Ursula is that I have really appreciated her friendship and advice. She is a truly remarkable woman. She gives of herself willingly. She has achieved such a lot in her time in the Senate. As Ursula herself has said and also as Penny Wong has said, the work that she has done in the voluntary sector has been remarkable. She works hard. She is always respectful of other people's points of view. I will miss her as well, and I wish her the very best into the future.
I would also like to put on record my appreciation of Senator Tillem's term here in the Senate. I did not work with Senator Tillem on any committees but, as anyone who has known Mehmet for very long would know, he is a truly genuine person. He has a very wicked sense of humour, and I wish him and his family well into the future.
I just want to make a short contribution in this debate. I will start with Senator Tillem, given that he has been here for only a short time. Since Senator Tillem has been here, I have found him to be a very gentle person. He is very softly spoken. He is just a lovely person. I have sat on a committee with him and enjoyed his questioning immensely when we were at a number of hearings for that committee.
I only met Senator Stephens when I came into this place a few years ago, but I just echo the thoughts and sentiments that have been expressed around the chamber tonight in terms of the nature of Senator Stephens. She has a very generous nature. I am in the same hallway as her, a couple of doors down. There is a big learning curve when you come here, and Senator Stephens assisted me and my office in a number of things. I remember the first committee report that we wrote—it was actually a dissenting report because we were in government and it was for a select committee—and Senator Stephens's office was very helpful with that. I really appreciate all that. It will be sad to see her go. I had no idea that she had such a beautiful voice, otherwise I would have asked her to sing a lot more often in her office and maybe I could have heard it from mine.
I have known Senator Thorpe for a number of years, from the early nineties. I remember when she was a fresh-faced member, prior to her becoming a politician. I was working at the AMWU and Tom Harding from the AMWU said that we had this fantastic woman who we needed to assist in getting her a seat on the legislative council. I have to say that there was no-one in the room that day who stood back and said that we would not help, because we had seen that she had a lot of potential and a lot of ability. She had those core, grassroots values that we needed so badly in there. She successfully went on to win the seat of Pembroke and represented Tasmania enormously well, until, unfortunately, she lost that seat. It was with great pleasure that I was able to be part of the rank and file vote to get Senator Thorpe here, when Senator Nick Sherry retired. It was great to be involved in that.
I do not have the same stories as Senator Brown has about Senator Thorpe, but I have a number of them. However, I am probably limited with time and I also think it is best that some of those things are kept within the confines of some areas. Senator Brown knows what I am talking about and is nodding furiously, so I will just leave it at that. I do wish Senator Thorpe and Toby all the best for their future. I know that they are heading off shortly to relax a little bit after a busy time. I hope they have a wonderful time. I also hope that when she gets back to Tasmania that she will enjoy it as a much as she says she does—and I know that she will. She lives in one of the most beautiful parts of Tasmania—well, the second most beautiful part. I actually live in the most beautiful part of Tasmania and she lives in the second most beautiful part. I do wish her well. I know that I will continue to see her around the labour movement, and I am sure that when I am in Hobart we will catch up over a coffee and maybe a glass of wine every now and then.
I met Senator Pratt back in the late nineties, if my memory serves me right, at a national Labor Party conference in Hobart, when we actually used to bring people to Hobart. The best conferences we ever had were when people came to Hobart. I was introduced to her by the late Jock Ferguson, whom Senator Pratt talked about in her speech. He was a wild Scottish character, I must say, whom I had the pleasure of working with in the AMWU for many, many years. I also had the pleasure of working with Jock in WA for a short period of time when he was the assistant state secretary of the AMWU. Jock had spoken about Louise many times before I met her. I know that he respected her. He thought very, very highly of her. When I met Senator Pratt at that conference, she was a feisty young woman. Her values and contributions have grown since that time, but she was very feisty then and stood up for the values that she espouses today.
I will miss her as an AMWU comrade. I know that she will go on to do wonderful things. I do wish her and Arron the very best for their future, and I also wish her the very best with her impending motherhood. She will make a fantastic mother. I am sure that the child that they bring into the world will espouse the wonderful values that their mother teaches them. I do wish you all the best, Louise. We will miss you in this house. Good luck.
I wish to make a couple of very brief observations, because I think it would be remiss of me not to, having worked so closely with one of the senators in particular who is leaving. If I could firstly thank all four senators who have given their speeches tonight for their contribution to the Senate in their different times here.
I have not had the opportunity to work with Senator Pratt on any committees, which is actually quite unique in this place. The unique character of the Senate is one where you work so closely with those who you may never normally, in the scheme of things, have anything to do with, because you come from very different philosophical backgrounds. If I can just say one thing to you, Senator Pratt—that is, motherhood is the greatest gift that you can possibly have, and just go and enjoy it. It is something that those of us who have been blessed to be mothers really enjoy.
Senator Tillem and I are members of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. Senator Tillem has been a very active participant in that committee. As two outgoing senators from Victoria, in many instances we have had very similar views on some matters, and it has been really good to have the opportunity to get to know him a bit more.
Senator Thorp's first so-called crossing of the floor was mentioned. I remember it well because I was whip at the time and I was the one who called out, 'The doors are locked—you are not allowed to go back to the other side of the chamber.' We learn lessons very quickly here, and that was one mistake Senator Thorp did not make again.
I would like to make a couple of cautious observations about Senator Stephens. I say 'cautious' because she reminded me that I am giving my valedictory speech tomorrow night and she will have the last opportunity to respond. I have to say how wonderful Ursula's speech was tonight. Regardless of what your partisan political views are, Ursula is one of those people who I hold with high regard and with the deepest level of respect. She is clearly a very intelligent woman, she is a very decent woman and she is a very compassionate woman. She seeks to engage with everybody she comes across. Most of all—which is what I love about her—she has the most irreverent sense of humour. Having travelled with her, I know that if you get back in one piece you have done really well! Ursula has a wonderful family, and I wish her all the very best in what I know will be a very, very rewarding future that lies ahead for her.
There is much said about the collegiality of the Senate. I would like to reflect on and add my own perspectives to the valedictory speeches that have been made. Senator Thorp from Tasmania and Senator Stephens from New South Wales have demonstrated great collegiality in the work that I have done with them. I have worked on the Community Affairs References Committee with Senator Thorp, and I thank her for her great enthusiasm in the inquiry on grandparents rearing grandchildren, which we are currently undertaking. She has been a most enjoyable participant as we have travelled around the country. Can I also add my comments in relation to the great work that Senator Stephens did in being a significant driving force in the work of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. I congratulate her on her great early stewardship of that.
I might leave my most significant contribution to remarking on the work that Senator Pratt has done as a Western Australian senator. I think it is fair to say, Senator Pratt, that there is not much that we agree on. You could not by any extent of the imagination call me a comrade without having a broad smile on your face. Despite that, you have been a very, very powerful champion for LGBTI issues in this place, in our national parliament—indeed, across our country—and most particularly you have been a very strong community advocate for LGBTI issues back home in Western Australia. I think you should be applauded for the great courage and conviction you have shown for the LGBTI community. I know that our views on certain issues differ, but we are united in our view that people are deserving of dignity and respect, irrespective of various issues, and most particularly if they are gay, lesbian, transgender or intersex people. I congratulate you on that. I extend my very warmest wishes to you and Aram as you begin on the path of experiencing for yourself the joys of raising a family. I congratulate you on what has been a very stellar contribution to important issues in our community.