Monday, 2 May 2016
Just shy of 17 years ago I entered this place to try and make the lives of everyday Australians that little bit better. As I prepare to leave Canberra for the last time as a senator for Queensland, I look back at the experiences I have had, both the good and the more challenging. I cannot help but be thankful for the opportunity entrusted to me by the voters of my home state. I am also thankful to those who work in the Senate, the cleaners and the caterers, security and administrators as well as the Clerk and her staff. These are the people who do make this place run. Without their hard work and dedication, very little would in fact happen around here.
I would like to thank the Australian Labor Party for preselecting me all those years ago and on those occasions since. It has been a privilege that I have not taken lightly. I thank the Australian Workers' Union, one of the greatest unions in Australia, which has protected and advanced workers' rights. I congratulate them today as they celebrate 125 years since the great shearers' strike in Barcaldine. Thanks to all the thousands of loyal branch members across Queensland who have fought hard for Labor. I would like to thank the members of the federal Labor caucus. Thank you for your friendship and your commitment to our shared values. Together we have done great things for the people of Australia, and a special thanks to the staff of the federal parliamentary Labor Party.
I would like also like to thank all my incredible staff over the past 17 years, who have helped me in this job. Naming them is a challenge, but I will do so nonetheless: Simon Every, Michael Carey, Merric Foley, Clair Nairn, Stuart Stark, Ben Smith-Stubbs, Sarah McSporran, Lauren Hannan, Katana Smith, Samantha Fuller, Aaron Broughton, Jackie Power, James Pawluk, Shawn Lambert, Sherry Paterson, Israel Quintanilla, Kieran Phillips, Khirann Kumar, Anika Wells, Laura Gowdie, Lydia Deutscher, Cecilia Burgman, Mel Patch, Peter Power and Michele Bourke; and most recently: Elliot, Liam, Mainaaz, Stay, Matthew, Dylan, Nino and Julie.
To the members of the crossbench who have worked tirelessly for the past three years: thank you for your service. Your careful consideration and due diligence have helped us keep this government in check most of the time. To the government: wish you were on this side of the place. But for many of the Liberal and National Party senators and members—and you, Mr President—thank you very much for your good company.
I need to correct an oversight that I have been unable to forget—and I wish you all were not here to hear this. In my first speech, the moment carried me away and I neglected to thank my wife, Leanne, for supporting me in this wonderful endeavour. Now you know why I would prefer you not to listen to this! It was a mistake, and I paid dearly for it. I can now correct that error. I would like to thank my family. As many before me have come to know, the difficulties of being a husband and a father at the opposite end of the country for half of every year are straining. My partner, Leanne, has been up to the task and we have raised two amazing young women, our daughters Anna and Kate. I do look forward to spending a lot more time with them over the coming years. I just hope they are equally excited about that too! So thank you, Leanne, I love you dearly. To my father and mother, I am grateful for the sacrifices they have made in raising my sister and I. They have always believed in us and gave us their support.
Since I was sworn in as a senator for Queensland, Labor has achieved much for this country. I am proud to have been part of the government that finally said sorry to Australia's first people. Labor developed and implemented the early stages of the National Broadband Network, revolutionising the way in which many Australians communicate and access information. We oversaw Australia's first serious attempt at reducing carbon emissions by placing a price on carbon emissions. It is my hope that a future Labor government will improve on the work that we did and get the country's emissions platform back on track. In the midst of the largest global economic downturn since the Great Depression, the Labor government ensured that the Australian economy would survive and thrive.
Throughout my time in the Senate, I have had the opportunity to hold various positions—because of you people in here, including those opposite too—from Deputy Opposition Whip in 2000 to being a member of cabinet under Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard. In December of 2007, I was appointed Minister for Human Services. In this role I brought in many reforms that strengthened the safety nets that every day Australians rely upon. In June of 2009, I moved from this portfolio to the role of Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary. I have always been a proponent of government transparency and accountability, and in this position I believe I was able to create reforms to the way Australians access information from their government.
In September of 2010, I was appointed as Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. During this time, we were able to stop the first super trawler coming to our waters and threatening the sustainability of our seafood industry—notwithstanding the Liberals from Tasmania. It was also during this time that the Four Corners' report unveiled the terrible conditions that Australian cattle were experiencing inside Indonesian abattoirs. We introduced a short suspension of live exports, as well as a raft of measures and extra resources designed to improve the conditions inside these facilities. While achieving the standard of animal welfare expected by the Australian public, the trade has since flourished. The markets diversified and have doubled in their value to the Australian economy from pre-2011 levels.
Following the floods that devastated large parts of Queensland in January of 2011, I was appointed as Minister Assisting the Attorney General on Queensland Floods Recovery. In this role, I saw firsthand not only the devastation but also the spirit and goodwill of the people of Queensland. Armies of volunteers took to the streets. They cleared debris from the streets and helped those who had suffered great loss to rebuild their lives. The federal government was there, with the state government, but ultimately it was people power that moved Queensland.
With these short words—I did not want to detain you too much this evening—I wish everyone in this place the best for the election to come. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support —and I thank my wife, Leanne, and my two daughters, Anna and Cate, for their support—which I think comes from all sides of politics at these times.