Senate debates

Monday, 13 August 2018

Parliamentary Representation


5:00 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I've been very fortunate in my life. Being a senator with the opportunities it presents to work with communities for social justice, genuine democracy and the environment has been a huge privilege. I thank the workers in this building: the cleaners, the grounds people, committee staff, security, IT workers, librarians, COMCAR drivers, catering staff, attendants and all the other staff who make this mini-city hum on parliamentary sitting days and keep it going 24/7. And I thank the Senate Clerk, Richard Pye, and his staff, the head attendant, John Brown, and all the attendants. Your ability to second-guess our needs is one of the wonders of this place.

While I continue to feel like a political outlier when I am in parliament, it's my engagement with workers and staff here that makes me feel more at home. I also thank all Greens senators and Adam Bandt, our lone voice in the House of Representatives. I look forward to when Adam has some Greens company in the House, and I'm sure it's coming. My appreciation of Greens members and supporters has no bounds. Through good times and the not so good, you have been a rock and one of the joys is working with you and enjoying how you burst the insular Canberra bubble.

I thank all my staff and those I have worked with in the past. I leave this job after years of working with the wonderful Helen Bergen, Brigitte Garozzo, Rebecca Semaan, Bjorn Wallin, Alana West and Linda Wilhelm. I've appreciated your hard work and support and sharing the political achievements and setbacks of this job. My biggest thanks go to my family. 'Support' is an inadequate word to encompass the loving, entertaining, irreverent solidarity, plus the dose of helpful critical feedback I've received from them. To my children and grandchildren, Jaya, Mimi, Rocco, Kirra and Jack, we're always there for each other and always will be. As we know so well, politics can turn nasty. Yes, for us as MPs, it can be tough, but for families and loved ones it can be particularly hard. They feel the pain and see through the lies, but they do not have the ready means to make their views public. I want to acknowledge what my family has been through.

My first visit to federal parliament was 50 years ago. It was 1968. The Vietnam War was raging and the Paris peace talks had stalled. With a group of high school friends, we organised a protest under the slogan 'Paris must mean peace'. We collected names on our petition, lobbied for support from prominent individuals and organisations and decided to demonstrate outside the US embassy and meet leading opponents of the war, Dr Jim Cairns and Tom Uren. The Hansard for 16 May 1968 shows that some conservative MPs speaking in the House of Representatives misrepresented our motives as 'communist inspired'. This was despite the broad support from Reverend Ted Noffs; Reverend Alan Walker; Ken Thomas, the founder of the Liberal Reform Group; and a number of unions. Yes, the parents of a few of us were in the Communist Party, but so what? The attacks then are not dissimilar to what I and sections of the Greens experience today. As a 16 year old, the lessons I learnt in 1968 have stuck with me: organise, involve people in the campaign, build allies and don't be put off by bullying, insults, and McCarthyist tactics of right-wing politicians and the media.

The Cold War-type casting of my recent work has confused some politicians, who have said to me that I don't fit what they expected. This has resulted in some interesting comments. I participate in the AFL and NRL parliamentary tipping competitions, and have even won. A Liberal senator inquired once about my success, adding that he had discussed this with his colleagues as they could not understand it. The clear subtext was: 'We don't get it. You are a Green, you are a woman and you are Lee Rhiannon. How did you win a footy tipping competition?' If a valedictory speech is supposed to be about one's successes, I would include in that list taking some small steps to break down the stereotyping of me and other Greens.

I spoke earlier of feeling like an outlier. For me, parliament had been a place where we went to protest, not to get a job. Parliament has been an institution of the state and big business and too often responsible for inequality, discrimination and environmental destruction. But, at the same time, parliament is meant to be democratic, and democracy is something I am deeply committed to.

So what was I supposed to do in this job? My actions started on day one in the New South Wales upper house. I am the first New South Wales state MP not to take the title 'honourable', and I am proud to be the first Greens New South Wales female MP. For me, becoming an MP was an opportunity to help expose the excessive privileges that go with this job and shake up the comfort zone that cross-party deals had delivered for too long.

The Greens' commitment was to stand with the people, not put ourselves above them. This meant exposing two-party deals over entitlements. The abuse I copped in the chamber over this was intense but it was our work on corporate political donations that really pushed the anger of MPs of both major parties off the Richter scale. This was in the 2000s, when, in some years, developer donations to Labor exceeded the money they received from unions. Reading out the amounts of developer contributions to parties and MPs resulted in colourful exchanges, although the more accurate descriptor is 'extreme abuse'.

The Greens' 'Democracy for Sale' campaign, based on a user-friendly searchable website, gave the public and journalists the tools they needed. The scandals cascaded into the media, and I am proud of the role my office and the Greens played in exposing the massive conflict of interest that parties create when they accept large corporate donations. In 2002, to much ridicule from major party MPs, I introduced the end developer donations bill. By 2009 Labor buckled and introduced the ban. Other electoral funding reforms that the Greens had championed followed.

I do not detract from the seriousness of the recent misogynist remarks made in this chamber but, for me, the behaviour in this parliament has been mild compared to my time in the New South Wales parliament. The abuse was directed not just at me but also at my parents, and two offensive speeches were made about the valuable political campaigning of one of my children.

It is disappointing that, at a federal level, we still do not have a national corruption watchdog. I know my federal Greens colleagues are passionate to continue the campaigns for a national ICAC and for lobbying and political donation reform.

Another consistent theme of the Greens' work, and one that I have endeavoured to build into my work in parliament and with communities across the country, is active opposition to the sell-off of public assets. The interest in our publication, Sold Off, Sold Out, reflects growing public support to renationalise and revitalise public services that have been privatised. I will continue to be involved in these endeavours when I leave this job.

This work highlights why we need a party to the left of Labor. First off, a comment on the coalition: I don't think there'd be anyone here who would doubt my hostility to the ideology of the coalition, even though I have enjoyed working with some individual coalition members on committees. But dealing with the Labor Party has presented a dilemma for the Left in this country for over a century. Here we have a social democratic party that has too often embraced neoliberalism and acted in the interests of big capital. Labor has played a major role in the privatisation of precious public assets. Yet history shows us that Labor in opposition is a different beast from the party that forms government. This is an enormous tactical challenge for the Greens and the broader left. That's a subject for another time, but for now I did want to share with you a comment from a chatty New South Wales Labor right MP. He said: 'We need Labor left. How else could we mobilise socialists and the left to vote for Labor and elect right-wingers?'

Naturally, as an advocate for the public sector, I am deeply committed to public education. In the 1999 New South Wales state election, when I was elected to the New South Wales upper house, the Greens ran our first public education election campaign. We called for the redirection of funding away from the rich private schools to public schools. I know the Greens' campaign helped revitalise this demand across the public education sector. Our commitment to righting the wrong decisions of successive coalition and Labor governments on public schools, TAFEs and universities is a constant of our work and of our election campaigns. In recent months the level of deception that the Turnbull government engaged in during the debate over their 2017 school funding bill has become more apparent. The Greens were right to vote against the government's plans—the so-called Gonski 2.0—that benefited private schools and will mean nearly nine in 10 public schools will not receive enough funding to meet the needs of each student by 2023.

I pay tribute to John Kaye, who died in 2016. He was a great Greens New South Wales state MP. John was a public intellectual whose insights and campaign initiatives built broad support for the Greens and for our stance on public education and our pioneering work on climate change for 100 per cent renewables. John's death has been a huge loss. He was not just a colleague; he was a very valued friend.

I picked up the housing portfolio after the 2016 election, and I feel very fortunate that that happened. At the moment we're putting the finishing touches to the Greens' universal social housing initiative. This plan is much more than an attempt to make the housing market less brutal; it radically redefines what it means for housing to be a human right.

My heart goes out to the many communities affected by the PFAS contamination. It is a huge, unresolved issue. We have been successful in setting up inquiries, but what the impacted locals and workers need is compensation to help rebuild their lives.

Building strong relationships with the Palestinian community has been a significant aspect of my work. My visits to Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan and my work in parliament have provided the opportunity to challenge the dominant narrative and shed some light on the reality facing the people and the region. I look forward to continuing this work.

What I have loved about my parliamentary work is the opportunity to work with so many people. That is the essence of my politics—to engage with people with the hope that they will become active for the public good. It is a key part of our democracy. We have tabled private members' bills to end the live export trade and the testing of cosmetics on animals. While I'm proud of this work in parliament, it is the strength of public opinion and public actions that will end the cruel treatment of animals.

The 2014 Abbott-Hockey budget provoked resistance amongst so many communities. Our website whatwillmydegreecost highlighted that the result would have been $100,000 degrees. Working with the National Tertiary Education Union, the National Union of Students, Labor and a number of crossbenchers, we defeated the higher education cuts. Twice in this chamber, that shocking bill was voted down.

My work with union members has been a delight, and I highly recommend this to help an MP stay grounded. From the solid support of the Meat Workers Union for our end live export bill, backing MUA actions to save jobs, campaigning with the CFMEU against the Australian Building and Construction Commission, working with education unions on funding issues and backing the ACTU's Change the Rules! campaign, the Greens recognise the vital progressive role that unions play. Sometimes our solidarity with unions raises issues with our allies. A few years back I joined striking coalminers at an Xstrata mine in the Hunter. I was quizzed later on how we could do that if we back an end to the coal industry. Easily. Mine workers and the environment are both exploited, and we need to campaign with coalminers when they fight for decent wages and conditions. At the same time, we work for a just transition to ensure mine workers and mining-dependent communities are not left stranded as the world turns its back on coal.

One of the highlights of my time here has been committee and estimates work, and being a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters. In 2015, all parties agreed to the JSCEM report recommending amendments to the Electoral Act that would end undemocratic Senate group voting tickets and leave it up to the voters to determine their own preferences. However, when the legislation came on for debate, Labor backflipped and ran a dirty campaign to make out that we were working with the Liberals out of self-interest. The many Labor voices in this debate conveniently forgot that they had previously backed the reforms at a federal level and in the New South Wales parliament. If Labor believed the lies they peddled about Senate voting reform, they would have promised to reverse the changes we voted in. No such commitment has been given. Those reforms stand, and they're important.

What is the future of the Greens? I believe it can be long and fruitful, but the challenges that all progressive parliamentary parties face are upon us. We need to remain a progressive, democratic party of the left. That means resisting careerism, hierarchical control, bullying behaviour and the associated leaking and backgrounding. If we fail to stand up to that sort of behaviour, not only will the Greens suffer setbacks but our contributions to building social movements will be reduced, we will lose members and individual members will be hurt. We need to engage constructively with the great progressive causes of our time. The future of a liveable planet depends on it. It is inspiring to see that, around the world, social movements for transformative, emancipatory change are on the rise. Thanks to a poll taken by the Centre for Independent Studies, we can quantify this interest in Australia. The poll found 58 per cent of surveyed Australian millennials are favourable to socialism, and 59 per cent agreed with the statement that 'Capitalism has failed, and government should exercise more control of the economy.' The Greens can take heart from these trends.

There are two people I wish to pay tribute to. In 1990, Geoff Ash asked me to join the Greens. I remember he put a good case, but what won me over were our four pillars—our principles that guide our policies and actions. A few years later, in 1993, we started going out, and this year is our 25th anniversary. I wish to thank him for his support, love and acceptance. Geoff has been active in the Greens for longer than I have. Some might say it was a bad move for him being my partner; the abuse and misrepresentation that has come my way for no good reason has sometimes rained down on him. His years of volunteer work for a progressive, democratic Greens have made a huge difference.

I also wish to thank Jack Mundey. The green bans movement, which Jack led, helped give the Greens our name. The green bans style of radical work, supporting grassroots initiatives, building broad alliances and taking direct action, continues to serve as a great model for the mass campaigns we now need to build and win. It was thanks to a CFMEU green ban and a massive community campaign that we saved the iconic Bondi Pavilion from a Liberal-planned privatisation. We had a similar battle in 1987 and a repeat in 2017, and we won on both occasions. To Jack and all the BLs, although our workplaces are worlds apart, your political style and approach has been with me every day as a Greens MP.

I would like to thank all my friends and colleagues who have joined us today. I know it's a long way to travel. Particular thanks to Kerry Nettle, a former senator of this place, and David Shoebridge, a Greens MP in the New South Wales parliament.

Before I came into parliament, I believed that people working together are the drivers of progressive change. Our history illustrates this truth. Winning the right to vote for Indigenous people and for women, withdrawing our troops from Vietnam, ending apartheid in South Africa, securing decent employment conditions, saving the Franklin River and, most recently, the marriage equality victory and so much more testify to this truth. The streets are where the action is. I've been privileged to be a member of two parliaments. I'm leaving parliament, but I'm not leaving politics. I look forward to returning to the streets. Thank you very much to all my colleagues in this place.

5:24 pm

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

On behalf of all of my Greens colleagues, I would like to thank Senator Lee Rhiannon for over 50 years of service not just to the Greens but, indeed, to the country. She's been around for more than 50 years in Australian politics, which says less about Lee's age and much more about how much of her life she's dedicated to important political causes.

From a young age, Lee was an activist. She's been a significant figure in Australia's women, peace, environmental and social movements. As a teenager, she formed the group High School Students Against the Vietnam War. She was involved in the anti-apartheid movement, the Union of Australian Women and Women's Action Against Global Violence. Lee was the founder of two key Australian activist organisations: Coalition for Gun Control and Aid/Watch. The list goes on.

Most of us in this chamber would be aware—both through our own involvement and perhaps through some of our colleagues in New South Wales—of Lee's tireless work to promote participatory democracy and political transparency. She's a large part of the reason we've seen political donations reform in New South Wales. She has fought hard to stamp out corruption in New South Wales through an Independent Commission Against Corruption, amongst other things. And, while we might not have one here in the federal parliament just yet, it's only a matter of time. That hard work, done through the New South Wales parliament and now here through our federal parliament, will take us much, much closer to the goal of more transparency in this place.

Throughout her time in the parliament, and in her political career more broadly, Lee has maintained an approach to democracy that brings people together to collectively work on issues to achieve change. She was a huge part of the campaign to protect our universities from those vicious cuts from the former Abbott government and to safeguard workers' rights against WorkChoices. She has used parliament as a platform to give a voice to communities right across the country who want someone to stand up for them in this parliament and who want someone to stand up and fight against the oppression that's occurring not just here in Australia but right around the world.

We've been having a debate today on live animal exports. I know Lee Rhiannon has contributed to that debate, but Lee was campaigning for an end to the live animal export trade long before this issue was discussed in this parliament. She's been campaigning on it not just for the last few months but for many, many years. I've got no doubt that the time will come when we will see an end to that cruel and barbaric trade, and, while Lee might not be in this place, she will know that her work has made a significant contribution to that important change.

Lee has also smashed a few stereotypes and bruised a few egos around this place. She mentioned the AFL footy tipping. Well, I've got to tell you, there are a few people around here who think they know a thing or two about football and the NRL, but Lee has shown them up by consistently either winning or nearly winning all of the parliamentary footy tipping competitions.

We also shouldn't forget that she famously beat former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the Cole Classic, a two kilometre stretch of ocean swimming held at Manly Beach. To boot, I've never seen Lee, unlike the former Prime Minister, running around Aussies Cafe in a pair of red budgie smugglers.

In closing, Lee, for someone who never thought they'd see themselves as a member of parliament, your achievements have been significant. You've made a great contribution to the nation, to political activism and to the issues which form the basis of our political movement. You mentioned the four pillars in your speech. Your commitment to the four pillars—ecological sustainability, social and economic justice, peace and non-violence and, of course, democracy—has been a remarkable one. See you in the streets!

5:28 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the government, I extend best wishes from all members of the coalition parties to Senator Rhiannon. Senator Rhiannon, as acknowledged in her valedictory remarks, has a distinctly different world outlook from members of the coalition parties and has a very different ideological perspective. There've been only few and far occasions upon which we've all voted together. Nonetheless, I think I speak for all members of the coalition when I say that we respect the sincerity with which Senator Rhiannon holds her views and we appreciate the way in which she goes about her work and her advocacy for the views and the causes that she holds dear. We particularly acknowledge the kindness, the regard and the consideration that Lee has shown in dealings with members of the coalition parties and indeed with all senators and members, especially through the different committee duties upon which there have been shared assignments.

Whilst Lee and I have been in the Senate together for seven years, I think it was probably during a brief spell of being on JSCEM together, reviewing the conduct of the 2010 election, that I was best able to see, in the early days of her service in the Senate, her approach of regard, consultation, cooperation and seeking to advance issues as best we possibly can, when and where there is agreement.

On behalf of the government and the coalition parties, I thank her for her service to the Parliament of Australia, to the Senate and, in a previous life, to the New South Wales parliament. We extend our best wishes and thanks to Lee's family and friends for their giving of her to serve in these places and to undertake public life, and we wish you, Senator Rhiannon, many, many happy years of continued but hopefully not too successful campaigning in the future!

5:31 pm

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Welcome to all of Senator Rhiannon's family and friends who have come to join her today. It's terrific to see you all here. Senator Birmingham did wonder, Senator Rhiannon, whether your reference to a Labor figure who wanted to gather in all those left-wing votes so that right-wingers could be elected to parliament was a reference to me, but I can assure him—and I'm sure you can verify this—it wasn't me. I think I know who did make that statement, and he featured prominently in the New South Wales newspapers last weekend. No? All right. It must have been somebody else.

Senator Rhiannon interjecting

I've got the state right, anyway. It gives me very great pleasure, on behalf of the opposition, to speak on your valedictory today. Your contributions to this place, Senator Rhiannon, are many. In reflecting on your farewell to this place, I look to the words that you delivered when you were first welcomed here. In your first speech, you said:

History demonstrates that, while parliaments make the laws, people are the driving force for social change. I believe one of the great strengths of the Greens is our constructive parliamentary work, combined with our commitment to amplify in this place the voice of progressive people's movements.

I am passionate about working with people—helping to improve their everyday lives, learning about their good experiences and how they cope with tough times.

In this chamber, while there is a divide on some fundamental issues critical to the future of the planet, I still believe that our shared humanity means that on many causes—often more than we realise—we do agree. I look forward to working with all senators to find common ground wherever we can.

I have to admit, Senator Rhiannon, that, on social issues and foreign policies, I suspect there wouldn't be much that we would find to agree upon. But the fact of the matter is you came to this place with a clear set of principles, a set of guiding values and an unwavering commitment to improve Australia's democratic institutions, and for that the Labor Party salutes you.

You were focused on achieving real outcomes for people you represented and indeed those that you did not. Your commitment to your own personal guiding principles was demonstrated in the recent schools funding debate, which ultimately saw you suspended for a time from the Greens party room. In your own words, Senator Rhiannon, you came to this place committed to 'working with all senators to find common ground wherever we can'. In my personal experience, that's exactly what you have done, and you've done it through a real and considered dialogue, talking and listening to the often divergent views that exist in this place and within the communities we represent.

In my capacity as the shadow special minister of state, I wish to extend my sincere gratitude to you for your work on the important issues, particularly in relation to political donations. While we've not always agreed on some of the issues that you have raised, your engagement in this has been an important part of the reform, and I'm very hopeful that in the weeks and months ahead the work that you have particularly done in JSCEM on the most recent government bill in respect of political donations comes to fruition and that in this country we finally ban foreign donations from our political process. When that happens, you will be able to take credit for that change, because you've contributed significantly to it.

Now, I want to talk a bit about your early life. I'm sure that the young and determined activist who first visited Canberra, aged 16, would never have dreamed that she would be standing in this place 43 years later to deliver her first speech as a Greens senator. Indeed, on that visit to the nation's parliament, as a teenager, I'm sure you could not have imagined what you would have achieved and what you would be leaving us with today.

Of course, your contribution in this place does not define your contribution to the people of New South Wales or, indeed, the nation. Prior to joining the Senate in 2010, you served as a Greens member in the Legislative Council of New South Wales parliament. In the New South Wales parliament you led campaigns concerned with electoral funding reform, environmental protection, improvements to public transport, the protection of workers' rights, the promotion of animal rights and better funding for public schools. These were causes that saw you continue your activism and advocacy upon your election to the Senate in 2010. You've experienced a life framed by political activism, ever since before you were elected to the New South Wales parliament.

Your youth and upbringing had many similarities to my own, albeit with a slightly different ambition. Family influences saw the beginnings of political activism and you have never known a life not imbued with the values of left-wing political activism. Born in 1951 in Sydney, you grew up as the only child of what you described as a communist family, where the driving concerns were working for a more equitable and peaceful world. Your parents, Bill and Freda, were members of the Communist Party of Australia, the CPA, including as members of the central committee, but they resigned from the CPA in 1972 and joined the then Soviet-aligned Socialist Party.

While your youth instilled in you a drive to defend the virtues of communism, my youth instilled in me the commitment to end it. Over time, in my second period in the Senate, we've had long discussions, you may recall, about the postwar conflict between communism and anticommunism. I have to confess, I have failed to convince you of the merits of the anti-communist cause, but they were terrific discussions. Some people stick with their lifelong principles.

Your political principles eventually brought you to Canberra and a seat in parliament. Your contributions in this place are many. You have been a formidable voice, most recently holding the important role of the Greens spokesman on housing, animal welfare, industry, democracy, gun control and local government. You have been a fierce advocate for change. During your time in the Senate, you have introduced 16 private senator's bills, addressing issues from reforming democracy to animal welfare. This breadth and depth of legislative reform is impressive, and so too is your contribution to the adjournment debate. In total, you have made 134 contributions on adjournments over the course of your career. These contributions demonstrate your passion and desire to give a voice to many issues, ranging from complex foreign policy matters to social housing in Sydney. In particular, you have been a specialist in utilising the previous 20-minute time limit on Tuesday nights to make speeches covering a wide variety of subjects.

I'm sure that your valedictory will not be the last we hear from you and that you'll continue to make a wide variety of contributions to public debate outside this place. When you announced your resignation from this place—and I think you referred to this earlier in your own speech—it was a sign of the technological advancements during your career that you did it via a live Facebook video. You warmly declared that you were not resigning from politics and that your political life is to continue. I've no doubt that your contribution to political debate will not end with your departure from this place. Your determination to drive change, your kindness and your willingness to engage across the political divide and to do so with a smile will be missed. On behalf of the opposition, I wish you all the very best for the future.

5:40 pm

Photo of Derryn HinchDerryn Hinch (Victoria, Derryn Hinch's Justice Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll be very brief. I just want to follow up something that the Greens leader, Senator Di Natale, said this evening, and that is that when that foul and cruel and disgusting export of live sheep ends in this country—and it will—Lee Rhiannon will be remembered for her part in it. I've loved working with her on that issue. Like night follows day, as I think Andrew Peacock said, it will happen. Senator Rhiannon, I pledge to you that, the day it goes, you will be remembered. Thank you.

5:41 pm

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

I rise on behalf of the Nationals to acknowledge the service of Senator Lee Rhiannon. Senator Rhiannon is known for her passion and commitment to what she believes in. In fact, Lee will remember a number of occasions when I was trying to chide my mates opposite gently that at least the Greens have a position; they stick to it; I understand it, and I respect that.

Senator, we have appreciated your honesty, your hard work and your sharp ability in a debate, and I'm sure that the Greens will miss your fighting spirit. We know that you've never been one to shy away from a debate. I'm not sure what Senator Farrell was thinking when he was trying to convince you otherwise. I certainly haven't tried to encourage you to take up gun ownership; I've invested in conversations about far more pleasant things.

But, as Senator Farrell indicated, I think part of your legacy really was in part of your first speech. You said you looked forward to working with all senators to find some common ground on something, and I think that's been your legacy, Lee. I really think that your legacy will reflect that particular contribution.

Lee, many may be surprised but perhaps not yourself that we have a lot in common, especially in our early education. We both studied and we're very keen on environmental sciences, botany and biology. My love of the natural environment took me to the Northern Territory, where I seem to spend most of my time killing it, but that was a different approach to life about a various skill set! Whilst my—

Honourable Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

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

I do acknowledge that the passion and the commitment to the environment have never been away from your whole career. That's been one of the absolute fundamentals in every debate. I've very much enjoyed talking to you, and I've very much enjoyed listening to the way that you've managed to present the values of the environment, including the very practical way of saying that we can't protect something if we don't value it and having a look at those values from different perspectives. So thank you for that. I know that many people have appreciated it.

We often acknowledge in this place the senator who stands in that particular seat or that particular Senate electorate. I think it's useful at this stage to acknowledge the sacrifice and the support that your family, your friends and all your loved ones have provided you during your years of service. It is a job that takes us away from home and away from the normal parts of life. I'm sure that those in your life will appreciate the chance to see a bit more of you, Lee, and that you will enjoy that time that you're able to spend with the family, however short it is, because you're determined to keep going with politics. So make sure you do spend time with your family and your grandchildren. Senator Rhiannon, thank you for your service, and I wish you the best in your next dance in life.

5:44 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I think most of it has been said. Everyone has recognised the capacity you have brought to this place, Senator Rhiannon. But one thing that hasn't been mentioned, or only a little bit in that last contribution, was that you majored in zoology and botany. I think your zoology experience might have done you well in this place from time to time and, from what I can read in the papers, even more within the Greens party room from time to time.

I want to thank you for all you have done for working-class people in this country. You and I have shared many picket lines together. We have been standing up for working people and I think your contribution has been absolutely fantastic. You did indicate that you were a political outlier from time to time. I think I have been a political outlier from time to time myself, but never quite as much as you. I never get barred from my party room. That is something I don't think happens too much in here. But you did it because of your principles, because you stood for working people and their capacity to get an education. I think the contribution you have made is fantastic. You have indicated you want to spend more time with your children and grandchildren. That's a great thing. I'm pretty sure that the Rhiannon gene pool will continue and I'm sure there are many activists in your family on their way through. That's a good thing.

I have listened to some of the debates in this place where you have come under merciless attack, in my view not for the proper reasons, from across the other side of the chamber. You've always stood firm for your principles and your values. I say again that some of the people who influenced you, like Jack Mundey, were terrific trade unionists. I hope that when you go the Greens maintain that understanding of the importance of the trade union movement in this country, because you certainly do. I hope they maintain their understanding that penalty rates are really important for working people; that without penalty rates some working families won't be able to put food on the table; that the conditions that have been fought for by the trade union movement over the years are important to fight for.

We've had a wide-ranging debate here about the issues that you've been involved in, such as Palestine; your mother was awarded a special honour from the South African government for being anti-apartheid. Many of the things that you've stood for from your young political activism are now seen as the norm. From time to time that happens in political parties. Some of the issues that I stood for as a union official and fought with you are now seen as a political norm within my party. So you've got to be there, you've got to keep fighting and you've got to keep arguing. I look forward to continuing my friendship with you, because we've had a reasonable friendship even though we've disagreed on many political issues over that period of time. I think my political differences would probably be less than the differences you may have had with other members of the Labor Party.

You've done a great job and you will be missed. Your determination to pursue Nigel Hadgkiss was something that you and I had in common. At least we got rid of that guy before we left, which was a good thing, and I thank you for your contribution to that. So for a progressive politician, for someone who spent your whole life looking after the working class in this country, I want to thank you for that. I want to place on record for my appreciation for the work you have done and for the sacrifices that your family have made over your long years of activism. It's not an easy job being in politics, especially when you are an outlier, as you were within your own party at times and in this parliament.

Thanks for everything you've done. I'm sure that you will continue to be a political activist. I think the Greens are poorer for your departure—I definitely do—and I just hope the Greens don't go too far to the right or too far to the centre, without you being there to pull them back a bit to the left when they need it. Thank you.

5:50 pm

Photo of Rex PatrickRex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

In my short time in this place I have enjoyed working with Senator Rhiannon. I haven't always agreed with her positions, but she's put her case politely and forcefully. I admire the manner in which she has progressed the things that she cares about. I've also liked her approach to committee work and I have actually learnt something from her, and I'm grateful for that. On behalf of Centre Alliance, I thank you and I wish you well in the future.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

That concludes the valedictory statements for Senator Rhiannon.