Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Parliamentary Representation


5:00 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order. It being 5 pm and pursuant to order of the Senate agreed to on 11 August this year, the Senate will now move to valedictory statements. I call Senator Wright.

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand here to make my valedictory speech with an immense sense of gratitude. First, I am grateful for this opportunity to put a few things on the record and to say some much needed thankyous.

As many people already know, I have made a decision to step aside from my position as a senator for South Australia after only four years due to an illness in my family. It was not an easy decision to make, but it is the right one. I am also very grateful for the opportunity I have had to be the 546th Australian senator since 1901. It is an opportunity very few Australians have. Through some great luck in 2010, it fell to me to be the second Greens senator for South Australia and the 95th senator elected to represent my state. I sincerely thank the South Australians who trusted me with their vote and I hope they feel I have vindicated their faith in me. So it has been four short years and four very long years since I first came into this place. It has flown by, but it also seems a lifetime ago that I made my first speech on 17 August 2011. I am definitely older and a bit greyer. I remember someone telling me that Senate years are like dog years: each year in the Senate is like seven ordinary years, and I am sure that is right. It has been an amazing journey.

When I first started, people asked me what it was like. I used to respond that it was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. Most would understand, but occasionally someone would ask, 'Why?' and I would answer: 'Well, imagine you start a new job'—everyone can relate to that—'and then imagine it is not one job but at least four. You are a policy maker, a salesperson, a media performer and a manager, but there is no job description and you are doing all of this on a stage with half the audience hoping you will fall off.' But, as we here all know, it is a job like no other. It is very creative, we make of it what we will and we make of it who we are.

For a stickybeak like me, a great aspect of this work has been the unique right that we have as senators to completely ignore our mothers' advice to mind our own business. Instead, we can indulge our curiosity, stick our noses into everyone else's business, invite ourselves to places, ask questions and find out things, and most people welcome it. I am prepared to admit there might be some notable exceptions—witnesses on Senate inquiries into tax avoidance spring to mind!—but of course we then need to turn that information to a purpose and do good in the world. The Senate committees are just a formal example of that, so I was very lucky to chair the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee for close to four years as well as having a stint on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement in my early days and as the Greens representative on the Parliamentary Joint Committee for Human Rights since it was first established in 2012.

Legal and con inquiries have covered a multitude of topics from court fees to forced marriages, but there are two which particularly stand out in my memory. One looked into the death of Reza Barati, the 23-year-old Iranian man who died a lonely death after a riot on Manus Island. He as the same age as my daughter. This was one of the hardest inquiries I have chaired, facing up each day to hear evidence that was very hard to process. I have never forgotten that, while we go about our daily lives with our families and with our friends, there are men living there on Manus Island, day after day, without any prospect at all that things will get better.

The other inquiry I am most proud of was the legal and con consideration of the value of a justice reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia which looked into our patently failing system of law enforcement and asked, 'What changes can we make to reduce the number of aboriginal Australians being locked up in our jails?' They are some of the most imprisoned peoples in the world. I took heart from this inquiry because it demonstrated to me that exposure to ideas and new information can change minds and views. It is not a novel idea, I will admit, but reassuring all the same. Perhaps we do not see the evidence of that in here—and I count myself in that as much as anyone—as much as we would like to. But some of those who were sceptical about the notion of the inquiry at the start came to warmly endorse the principle of justice reinvestment by the end. This issue is unfinished business for me. I want to see our systems change to tackle the causes of crime and I want to see the amazing results in Australia that justice reinvestment has achieved in the US: less people in jail, stronger communities.

Being a senator exposes us to amazing experiences if we are willing to grab the vine as it swings past. So, soon after I started, I found myself sitting in a container in Queensland in full PPE—personal protective equipment for those us in the know—as I was surrounded by flames licking up the walls of that structure. I was telling myself that the firefighters who had organised the whole shebang would surely not risk any scandalous headlines like 'Singed senators' or 'Poached pollies'. This was part of an inquiry into Adam Bandt's landmark bill to support firefighters who contract cancer in the course of their work. Again, the experiences we shared on this committee helped change minds, incontrovertibly demonstrating to us the debt that we owe firefighters because they are often the only ones running into a burning building when everyone else is running out. Adam's bill was ultimately passed unanimously, a rare but very agreeable example of our capacity to work together in this parliament for the national good.

There was also that time I donned a bite suit that made me look like the Michelin Man—not very stylish but highly practical, and apparently it is recommended couture for anyone being attacked from behind by a German shepherd. That was just one of the many pleasures I experienced when I visited Amberley air base for a week as part of the ADF Parliamentary Program

Now that was a great opportunity to test some assumptions—on both sides—and I was made exceedingly welcome and learned lots. A highlight was travelling in a C17, the aircraft used for delivering aid supplies and assisting with medical evacuation when Australians are providing emergency responses at times of natural disaster and crisis—work that I am immensely proud of.

Less adrenalin fuelled but thoroughly rewarding was the extraordinary hospitality I experienced in rural Australia as I conducted a tour over about 18 months to hear about gaps in mental health services in country areas. Although the scones and lamingtons proved hazardous to my waistline, I just loved the chance to learn from people who could help me develop policy that was relevant to their needs. One Friday night after a few days on the road I was flying back to Sydney from Orange. The attendants solemnly went through the safety drill from the front of the plane determined not to be distracted by the fact that I was the sole passenger on the flight, sitting in the very back row of the 34-seat plane listening dutifully. At this point I probably should point out that, although I had the plane to myself, it was a regular scheduled flight. So any resemblance to Choppergate is purely coincidental.

My rural tour sums up my favourite part of the work that we do—the rewards from meeting people, hearing their hopes and fears, amplifying their voices and being able to reflect and validate their concerns in the national parliament. It is very good for democracy. For me, making connections, taking the risk to be real and listening with an open heart are really the most exciting parts of being a senator. And if it sounds like a 'Girl's Own Adventure', well, it really has been. I would like to see many more 'girls' coming on this adventure, and I hope that in some small way I have helped show that ours is a perfectly respectable profession. I think the trick is to find a way of doing politics that is congruent with one's own personal style. Encouraging this will lead to more women putting their hands up.

We work in a challenging and often adversarial environment which rewards behaviours that would actually have you disciplined or ostracised in a normal workplace. As a guiding principle, I have found it helpful to remember the advice of one of my favourite cartoonists from the 1980s, Kaz Cooke—advice usually dispensed by the spikey-haired sharp-nosed young female figures that she drew—to 'keep yourself nice'. After all, when I leave here all I will really have left is me. I have also been mindful of the sage advice I heard once to 'be polite to those you pass on the way up as you may meet them again on the way down.'

As I look ahead, I know I am going to enjoy some sleep and luxuries like reading for pleasure, having the time to reflect and reconnecting with friends and neighbours, who we all miss in this place. While I am sorry to be leaving, I know that my party, the Australian Greens, is in a good and growing place. I am thankful that I have been able to work with wonderful colleagues—my Senate companions and Adam flying the green flag in the House of Representatives. I have experienced the inspiring leadership of three leaders: first Bob Brown, then Christine Milne and now, all too briefly, Richard di Natale. I have worked in a variety of workplaces over my career, and I can say without any doubt that these are some of the most intelligent, talented and dedicated people I have ever had the privilege to work with. I am going to miss you all very much, my friends.

In South Australia, I am very heartened by the mature, collegiate state of the party Mark Parnell and I helped establish in 1995. We have come a long way since then. The calibre of the people who put their hands up to fill my position and the efficient and professional way the SA Greens responded to the challenge of a speedy but fair preselection process attests to this.

I also believe the Greens are in a strong place because the 21st century challenges are our challenges. They are pressing and they require an approach that is different to what has gone before. However comforting and tempting it is to turn back to old, familiar viewpoints and solutions, we cannot live in the past. We cannot 'unknow' what we know now; we just have to have the guts to face it and make decisions for the long term based on the information and evidence that we have. We only have this one beautiful, fragile planet with an atmosphere and an environment that we are a part of. Like any other animal species, if we destroy it we destroy our own chance of survival.

Before I finish I have quite a list of people to acknowledge—without whom I could not have done my job in this place. There are the Senate staff, led by Rosemary Laing, who have been unfailingly courteous and helpful—and proud! Right from that first day of Senate school, we newly elected senators, the class of 2010, were left in no doubt that democracy resides right here in this house of review, with the important job of scrutinising that sometimes wayward House of Representatives—with Odgers in our arsenal when the going gets tough or uncertain. Thank you to the committee secretaries and their excellent staff, who are so professional in all they do and who are willing to go above and beyond to get the job done. They spin hours of evidence and reams of documents into comprehensible gold.    Thank you to the cleaners—those good fairies who visit while the rest of us are sleeping to keep our offices pleasant and habitable; the chamber attendants—so attentive and anticipating our every need; and the security guards who help keep us safe and endure what must be times of acute boredom. Special thanks to Ian and Peter and the Comcar drivers, both here in Canberra and in Adelaide and elsewhere. If any of you are listening, please do not ever underestimate how lovely it is to be greeted with your smiles and kindness on a cold Canberra morning when we are a long way from our family and friends.

Finally, Mr President, at the risk of an awkward 'aw shucks' moment, I would like to place on the record my appreciation of the even-handed and considered approach you have brought to your role. I think we first met on the law enforcement committee—and we have both moved beyond that at this point. At a time when the position of presiding member of a parliamentary chamber would probably not be at the top of the pops in terms of career aspirations, you have been even-handed and thoughtful. You even listen carefully to the questions in question time!

That may not be a strict breach of the standing orders, but I am sure it is a breach of the conventions!

Now to my staff—I could not have done it without you. Lisa Marlin has been my office manager since day one. I vividly remember walking with Lisa around our empty Adelaide CPO suite on that first day, her notebook and pen in hand, starting a 'to do' list that has never come to an end. Thank you, Lisa. Anna Chang has been a tower of strength while working for me as a campaigner and cheerfully turning her hand to any role or challenge that cropped up. Anna continues to support and encourage me, even to this day. Thank you to the policy advisers who served me over time: Graham Goss; Amy Barry-Macaulay, who is here today; Clare Quinn; Sarah Moulds; and Simon Bakker. I have been spoiled by your exceptional skills. Thank you to my campaigners: Shen Mann; Erin Brooks; Rachelle Sandow; Emma Gorman and Ogy Simic. And a huge thanks to Sharon Reid, who is so adaptable she morphed through three positions in the two years that she worked for me. Thank you to my media advisers: Lauren Zwaans; Jenny Maisel; Danielle Forsyth, who worked miracles for me; and, most latterly, Cambell Klose, who has been a great support in the last few challenging weeks. Thank you also to those staff who have helped me by filling in over the last few weeks and who are here today: Lucy, Emily, Olivia and Eithne.

Thank you also to my friends and the many people who have sent me some kind messages in recent times, especially my focus group, who would meet me for coffee on Saturday mornings to help me to focus on what really matters—and, as we all know, it is not always what we think is important in here. Special thanks to Pat Tobin, who has been a very good friend for me in Canberra—offering support, encouragement and friendship right from the early days when I was in a wheelchair after I had been hit by a car.

Finally, thank you to my family. My daughter, Ellie, follows politics with great interest and has had the uncanny knack of sending me cards and funny, encouraging text messages just when I needed them most. Thank you for the love and support of my big boy, Felix. I do not know if he has actually got here from Melbourne—yes? Good! It was a near thing. Felix is very interested in current affairs and ideas, but less fascinated by party politics. I had to laugh when I was sitting in that seat over there in June 2013 during the height of the leadership tensions in the last parliament, when a text message lit up my phone. It said: 'Hi Mum. Can I come over and use your kitchen to cook Ruth a chocolate mascarpone cake for her birthday?' I suspect he did not even know I was in Canberra. I responded by texting: 'Yes, love. And by the way—yes, I am in Canberra; and yes, we do have a new Prime Minister!' I love the fact that while he is clearly not a political tragic, I have raised a son who wants to make his girlfriend his signature cake for her birthday. I have always told him that the ability to cook was a very attractive quality in a man. And thank you for the love and support of my youngest boy, Mungo, who has a great sensitivity to ideas and ethics, a soft heart and a gift with words. Indeed, I noticed a Facebook post he made today when he described me to a friend as 'a good egg with awesome values'. How could I argue with that?

My final thanks are reserved for my husband, Mark, who has accompanied me on this journey every step of the way and right up to this point. He knows that his most important job is to make me laugh and, so far, he has managed it pretty well. If he ever stops, he knows that is it—he is dropped! This has not been an easy decision to make, but it has been made easier by the fact that it is the right one, and I feel very lucky to have a husband and kids that I love above all other things.

In my first speech I concluded by saying:

When I stand here to make my last speech I would like to think that I have contributed to making Australia a kinder, fairer place.

Well, I have had a shorter time to try to achieve that than I would have anticipated, but I am confident that I have done the best I can. Thank you.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Wright.

5:22 pm

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

It is my privilege on behalf of the coalition government to say a few words on the occasion of Senator Wright leaving us. First ofall, I congratulate Senator Wright on what was, if I might say, a very folksy, charming and engaging valedictory speech. In the relatively short period Senator Wright has been here she has experienced a fairly dynamic period of Australian politics—a few Prime Ministers, a few Greens leaders and I think only one Liberal leader, possibly more to good luck than good management, but who knows. It was a very dynamic period and Senator Wright observed the coming into government and then the backing out of government of what we on this side called the Green-Labor government. Senator Wright, as a founding member of the Greens, undoubtedly was used to the ups and downs of politics on an organisational basis here in the parliament, where, in the parliamentary sense, it can be somewhat difficult.

If I might say so, Senator Wright gave a very good expression on behalf of all colleagues as to some of the issues we face when we are away from family. Noting Senator Wright's many portfolio positions, I simply to say that she threw herself into everything in the portfolios and areas of interest she had personally or was given by the Greens as her special responsibility.

As a foundation committee member and a former honorary legal adviser to the Jireh House women's shelter in the suburb in which I live, I share a strong affinity with Senator Wright's views on the topic of violence against women and domestic violence. I believe she has made a very thoughtful and good contribution in that particular area of public policy. It did note Senator Wright's comments about the fire fighters bill and the firefighters rushing into the building as everybody was rushing out. If sufficient time has now elapsed for me to divulge this, I was the shadow minister dealing with this bill. On my side of politics, I felt a bit like the one fire fighter running into the building when all of my colleagues were wanting us to leave it, but after a period of time I was very pleased to see the outcome, to which Senator Wright referred, and that was the unanimity of the parliament. Sitting on one of my shelves is a gift from the firefighters union—I understand it is below the disclosable threshold. I will not tell my preselectors about it in case it harms my chances of reindorsement. The collegiality and the manner in which the parliament acted in relation to that bill showed the Senate at its very best and Senator Wright and Mr Adam Bandt from the other place played a very important role.

While we are often on the TV screens doing things to make people think we are as hard as nails, we do have families and we do have other concerns. Senator Wright has made a very tough decision and has put her family first. We on this side recognise that and we salute that. We wish Senator Wright personally all the very best, whatever the future may bring. We also extend those best wishes to your whole family. All the best for the future.

5:27 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to contribute remarks on behalf of the opposition on the occasion of the valedictory for my fellow South Australian Senator Wright. It is unfortunate that the demanding nature of politics often leads to conflict with our family responsibilities. In this case, Senator Wright has chosen to put her family first. We respect and acknowledge that and pass on our best wishes to her family.

When reflecting on my contribution today and on Senator Wright's career, I thought particularly of the conviction of her beliefs and her dedication to the causes and issues she fervently believes in. As she referenced today in her speech, she is not a recent convert to green politics, having been a founding member of the Greens in South Australia over 20 years ago. In her first speech, Senator Wright remarked that she was lucky to be born into a big rambunctious family, number six of seven children. I am sure that prepared her well for her experiences in the Greens party room and in the Senate.

In relation to her comments about dog years, I think she is right. And when it comes to the greying of the hair, I hear you—that is all I can say. Not only has Senator Wright's time in this place demonstrated her passion for environmental causes, but also I have been particularly struck by her continued and deep commitment to human rights and the law, as well as to mental health and education. In her time in parliament, she has held positions most notably on the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee including as chair of the references committee in the current parliament, as well as on the Joint Committee on Human Rights and on the Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement and Integrity. These appointments reflect her interest and her expertise in this area, which she obviously brought to this place from her previous experience as a lawyer and advocate, which have also complemented her role as legal affairs spokesperson for the party.

Senator Wright has today spoken about some of the priorities of her work, including justice reinvestment. I would say this: Senator Wright came to this chamber as a lawyer, and in her work and focus in this place she has demonstrated a consistent adherence to some of the best and highest principles of the legal profession, including the rule of law and the rights of the individual.

Another significant portfolio responsibility that Senator Wright has held within her party throughout her time in the Senate is that of mental health. I know she has brought a dedicated and passionate approach to this policy area, which was overlooked for many years at the highest level of public policy in this nation. Thankfully, I think that time has passed. She has also been an outspoken advocate for quality public education.

On a lighter note, I know that some people will now find it much less confusing that there is only one Penny W from South Australia in the Senate! In fact, I have had many people say to me that there clearly is a statistical advantage to being called 'Penny from South Australia' in terms of getting into the Senate! I understand that on one occasion a poster banner that Senator Wright had ordered about offshore drilling near Kangaroo Island was delivered to her office addressed to Senator Penny Wong. I am told that this was the source of much mirth amongst her staff. I am sure that was not the only occasion on which there has been a confusion of identity. I know I have regularly been asked about what it was like in the Greens party. There you go!

As Senator Wright has acknowledged in the statement she issued to announce her resignation, there are many things she is still keen to achieve. I suspect that is the case for almost everyone who comes into this place on the occasion of our leaving, because the nature of politics and the nature of political reform—particularly for those on the progressive side of politics—is that there is always something left to do. So, despite her time in the Senate being at an end, I hope that Senator Wright will continue to make a valuable contribution to the life of our nation in the future and, particularly, to the life of our state. We thank her for her service to the Australian people in the Australian Senate.

5:31 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with a great sense of sadness that I rise today to pay tribute to my colleague Senator Penny—I was about to say 'Wong' but it is not!—Senator Penny Wright.

Penny said that she was elected in 2010. We were elected at the same time, and she said that she was elected thanks to some great luck. I take issue with that. Penny was elected because the people of South Australia showed wonderful judgement and recognised a decent human being when they saw one.

We were both in the class of 2010, and when I first met Penny she was on crutches. She had a bung knee; she had suffered an horrendous bicycle accident. I thought that was a fairly drastic way of demonstrating her commitment to the Green cause! She struck me immediately as someone who was incredibly respectful, very curious and reflective—things that I think are in very short supply in our nation's parliament.

She is someone of great warmth, and has a very immediate connection with people. She has been able to connect with communities across South Australia in a way that few other people could. It is one of her great strengths, that she has been a very strong and powerful advocate for the people of South Australia. I know that she has done some amazing work on Kangaroo Island in standing alongside landowners to protect the environment, and taking on issues like oil and gas exploration.

Similarly, in the south-east of the state—around Mount Gambier and the Limestone Coast—she took a stand against unconventional gas exploration on farmland. She worked in Port Augusta to highlight the transition that was possible in moving away from polluting sources of energy to solar thermal power. And, of course, as we have heard, she worked closely with Adam Bandt in the lower house to ensure that firefighters were given the protection they need in developing an act that protected them if they developed an occupational cancer.

She also took on her portfolios with great relish. Penny was handed the mental health portfolio. I can say this now: at the time I wondered, as the health portfolio holder, whether it was a wise idea to split health into health and mental health. I know that there is a strong argument in that direction, but I suppose I just wanted it for myself! But within a few months it was pretty clear that it was the right call. She took to that portfolio with relish, she worked incredibly hard on it and she leaves a very strong legacy in that area.

She conducted a rural tour—a tour of regional Australia—working with a number of communities in trying to find out what the best pathway was to address one of the great challenges that we have as a nation, and that is providing care for people with mental ill health. One of the things I think I am proudest of from the last election was a comment from Russell Roberts, who is the chair of the National Alliance for Rural and Regional Mental Health, who said that Penny was responsible for:

… one of the most sensible pieces of policy work I've seen from a political party, on rural mental health, in the last 25 years.

That is a great credit to you, Penny.

She did not just work, though, in developing policy for the election. She was able to work across party lines. Together with some of her colleagues she established the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Youth Mental Health in 2013 to highlight some of the unique challenges that face young people across the country. She also worked with people suffering from things like eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. Again, I think that people who are suffering from mental ill health will be thankful for the great work that Penny has done.

Penny was also the chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee from 2011 until this year. I think it is fair to say that for some of that time she was driven to her wits' end. We have had many discussions about the standard of debate within that committee and, without wanting to cast any aspersions on other members in this place, let's just say that there were other members of that committee who pushed Penny to her limits—and if you know Penny, that is saying something.

She also did a lot of work through that committee that will not make it to the TV news. Justice reinvestment, for example—not a particularly glamorous area and not something that will make newspaper headlines, but a really important initiative. And she drove an inquiry into the value of justice reinvestment in Australia to deal with issues such as the high incarceration rate of Aboriginal people across the country, and looking at whether we can redirect our resources in a much more caring and cost-effective way.

She was involved in a disallowance motion—in fact, she led the charge on the abolition of the government's so-called divorce tax and was responsible for changes in that area. She has been such a strong defender for the rule of law. She is so considered in her contribution in our party room, and particularly at a moment when there is a battle going on around what is the appropriate response to some of the international issues that are facing us. She has been a champion for human rights and civil liberties, against some of the attacks we are currently seeing on the rule of law in Australia.

I remember fondly her contribution to the debate around racial discrimination. A particular encounter with the Attorney-General Senator Brandis comes to mind, when Senator Wright stood up and—let's just say, she gave as good as she got. She did an amazing job and she did us all proud.

She has worked hard on veterans' affairs and made a big contribution in that area, providing much-needed advocacy for the partners of veterans and their families; and raising awareness and understanding around a number of issues relating to veterans' mental health.

In schools and education she was a champion for a decent public education system and did her best working with other members in this place to see the Gonski reforms implemented. She has been a strong and vocal critic around NAPLAN testing and has highlighted some of the inadequacies in that area of education policy.

So it is with sadness that we all say goodbye to Penny. It always happens to the good people. I think Australia's has lost a great champion for human rights. I think Australia has lost a great defender of our precious environment. We Greens have lost a person of tremendous integrity, warmth and intelligence. But her family has gained a wonderful mother and wife. You have your family back. Our loss is your gain. Penny, on behalf of everybody here, we are going to miss you.

5:39 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the National Party to pay tribute to the time that Senator Penny Wright, spokesperson for the Greens in South Australia, has spent here since 2010.

Much has been said about the wonderful work that Penny has done here, but I would like to focus on some of the values that I think she has demonstrated throughout her time in this place. Interestingly, in her maiden speech she reflected forward to her valedictory speech. She said:

When I stand here to make my last speech I would like to think that I have contributed to making Australia a kinder, fairer place.

And there is much wisdom in her next line, which was:

If we practise kindness and fairness I believe that we can meet the challenges this century brings.

How true. I would like to use this speech to touch on some areas. Many have been covered but I think that Senator Wright has demonstrated her commitment to a kinder and fairer place.

Senator Wright is said to attribute her love of public speaking to an encouraging teacher in year 9. Her vocal abilities have since been a constant trait of all her occupations. And, Penny, I have to say, when I listen to you in this place, I think you bring a rare discipline. I have seen you really cranky and I can still understand what you are saying—and it is not the same with me.

So, whether it be the first time as a student or a teacher when lecturing at Flinders University, we have all heard in this place of your great passion and strong views about ensuring that we provide a fair education system. You have said:

I am … very proud to stand here … to make the case for a schooling system in Australia where every child will have the chance to succeed, and where not one child will be denied a future just because of their background.

During your time in this place, you have commendably advocated for the rights of society's most vulnerable; for education, particularly the education of our kids; for the safety of our kids; and for improved mental health for everyone, particularly more recently. I think the tempo of your advocacy has been a function of the need in the community.

You have also campaigned strongly in this place in an area of particular interest to me—that is, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. In particular, I would like to acknowledge and commend Senator Wright for ongoing promotion of the value of improving our approach to criminal justice for Indigenous Australians. Many people in this place would know about your passionate advocacy not only for justice reinvestment generally; you have also been a champion for rethinking and providing innovation in this space, challenging people to move from the position they are in, which is clearly not working, to a new one. So congratulations.

I think one of the legacies you will leave, Senator Wright, is particularly in the area that I work in, Indigenous affairs. Your multiparty approach—taking the politics out of Indigenous affairs—is something I think we should all take some leadership from.

You should also be commended for your aspirations to actually seek out like-minded politicians, people you think you can work with. You do not just have a multiparty approach; you also pick people you think you can work with and get a bit of gang around you on those matters. I have watched very carefully in great admiration the way you do that.

I think we all recall your steely determination to be a senator in this place. I can recall some vision of you campaigning from a wheelchair. We all know it is not easy campaigning anyway, but throughout 2010, following that terrible car accident, you continued to campaign. It is great credit to you. I am sorry to hear of the circumstances leading to your need to step away from politics. I wish you and your family all the best. I think, as you said, it is a good decision.

I would also like to commend you for your time as a senator for South Australia. I know a lot of senators here; I know who they are and what their values are but I often struggle to know exactly where they are from because it is a less politicised place in that regard. But I certainly know that you are from South Australia because of how passionately you speak about it and because you so often reference your life in South Australia. I would like to also commend you for your unyielding efforts for the people you represent. I congratulate you on the contribution you have made towards making Australia a kinder and fairer place. I wish you all success in the future and also for your family.

5:44 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no more speakers, could I just add my support to the comments already made by honourable senators. Senator Wright, we, the Senate, will certainly be poorer for you not being amongst us. We understand completely your reasons for leaving, although we still can be sad about that. I wish you and your family all the best.

(Quorum f ormed)