Wednesday, 24 June 2015
Valedictory: Senator Christine Milne
I know that Senator Milne's speech was not officially a valedictory, but it was a farewell speech. I might make a few remarks on behalf of the government. Senator Milne is a colleague with whom I disagreed on almost every issue that I can immediately think of. There would be a few on which we have agreed, but there are not many. Of course, that is the beauty of this place: people come from all parts of our country and from all variety of points of view. Through the process of this place, usually not a chamber which the government controls, we produce an outcome which is tested on the anvil of democracy—indeed, this chamber is the anvil of Australian democracy. I have always found it possible to respect people whose points of view I profoundly disagree with, and I would put you in that category. What I respect is the fact that you have brought a passion and a commitment to the prosecution of your beliefs and you have been very successful, if I may say so. You became a senator shortly after I did. When I first came into this place, there was one Greens senator, former senator, Bob Brown. There are now 10. For a substantial period of time you led the Greens. I think, on the occasion of someone's farewell, it is appropriate to put to one side differences of political opinion—perhaps even bitter differences of political opinion—and to acknowledge their service.
You are one of the relatively few Australians who decided to give your life to public affairs and into the causes about which you felt passionate. For that you should be respected, thanked and admired. You spent more than a decade, as I understand, in the Tasmanian parliament and well over a decade in the Senate. So it has been a long and conspicuous period of public service. You have been an idealist; you have been an effective spokesman for your beliefs. On this occasion of your farewell, I am sure I speak on behalf of all government senators in thanking you for that service and wishing you well.
I suspect Senator Milne probably wanted to give a farewell speech and then leave and go and have some time with friends. But this is an institution which enjoys its courtesies, notwithstanding your desire for a less formal farewell. I just want to make a few remarks. Obviously—particularly when I was climate change minister—Senator Milne and I have had our differences, but I have never doubted the sincerity of her beliefs. Senator Milne, I never doubted the sincerity of your beliefs nor the passion with which you felt them, and I respect that.
At times we have been combatants. I hope in more recent times, particularly leader to leader, that we did come to a place where we could speak to each other openly. I certainly trusted you to be open with you. That, in this place, is also something that needs to be respected. You have been a fighter for your causes. I know, knowing you, that that was reflected again in your contribution tonight. Your activism and your struggle for the causes in which you believe will certainly not diminish with your departure from this place.
I also note there are not many women who get the opportunity to lead a political party. I salute you for being a woman who has led your party in this place. In that respect, women everywhere, I think, should look to women such as yourself, or any woman who holds high political office regardless of their political party, as a role model and a trailblazer. I know that, because you have spoken about it publicly, you have a desire for perhaps a sweeter time with family. On behalf of opposition senators, we acknowledge your service. We thank you for your contribution to public life, even if we have disagreed at times. We wish you very well in this next phase of your life.
I too want to associate myself with remarks of the Deputy Leader of Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. I have just come from a function tonight launching a book about the 'Joh for PM' saga. Ian Sinclair was there to talk about the book. Ian regaled the story about how, when he was first made a minister, Robert Menzies said to him, 'I've only got one piece of advice for you: I might disagree with me, you might disagree with me, but your job is to always tell me what your views are. Be up-front with those views.' We should never be afraid of debate and of different views in this place.
I, too, want to say to Senator Milne that she has put her positions to this chamber in a passionate and forceful way over a long period. What would this place be without people like Senator Milne to have that debate and that contest of ideas, which is what Australian politics should be about? As a relatively new senator of nearly one year, I pay tribute. To think that Senator Milne has had 10 years in this place, almost to the day, and before that about 15-odd years in the state parliament in Tasmania, so a sum total of about a quarter of the century serving public life. I can only take my hat off to you, Senator Milne. I fear for my own sanity and youthfulness about facing the prospect of another 24 years in public life. I am sure my wife hopes that is not the case.
I, too, would like to wish you all the best for your future. I know that you will have more time to spend in your much beloved Tasmania among nature and with your family as well. I was particularly drawn to your quoting from Tennyson. There is a long poem that Tennyson wrote—In Memoriam. I am not going to read all of it, but there is a nice little verse that says:
But they must go, the time draws on,
And those white-favour’d horses wait;
They rise, but linger; it is late;
Farewell, we kiss, and they are gone.
It is a beautiful poem. I hope that you can read much more poetry in your retirement. I certainly do not get an opportunity to do that in this job.
Tonight, I was going to speak about the very important issue of single-income families. I was sitting here thinking that the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate has turned up to hear my speech, the Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate has turned up to hear my speech; I must be saying something very important. And then it dawned on me that they were not here for me. But perhaps I will have to hold over my remarks to another night, except to say in the minute remaining tonight that I think this a very important issue. The tax treatment of single-income families in Australia is becoming an increasingly important issue. We have always had a system which is relatively discriminatory against single-income families. It is relatively discriminatory in comparison with other countries in the world. Even when you compare it here in this country it is a difficult situation for those families that rely on one income. It has gotten worse in the last few years with an increase in the tax-free threshold and also the means testing of Family Tax Benefit Part B. I think it is time that, at some point, we look to tackle that anomaly. I made a submission to the tax white paper with some practical suggestions to do that—some affordable ones, I think. Perhaps in another adjournment speech night, I will expand further on those.