Thursday, 23 August 2018
This is my final speech to the Senate. I'm not calling it a valedictory as I'm not retiring from politics. I'm not leaving politics. I'll continue campaigning outside this place on the same issues as I've spoken on and campaigned on inside and outside this place over many years. If you want an idea of what those issues are, I think I've made about another 110 speeches or so since I came back to this place a little over nine months ago. So there's plenty of material for you to look over, if you're interested.
The reason I'm continuing with these campaign efforts, as should be clear to everybody, is that our political system is more broken than ever. It is rigged to benefit political insiders and their corporate donors and mates, and we need to change that urgently. We need to create a kind of politics that will provide a future for all of us, and that's what I'm leaving this place to do.
Today of all days demonstrates better than any other that our political system is badly, badly broken. It does not just need a bit of tinkering, a bit of minor reform, a bit of incremental change; it needs major transformation. Having as many strong progressive Greens voices as possible in the Senate is crucial to changing this, but the key factor to advance this badly-needed change is to win more lower house seats, to weaken the grip of the two entrenched parties, which make up the political establishment and which have held power in this country for over a century.
When I left the Senate the first time, in 2008, a while ago now, it was in the early days of the Rudd government. There was much about our parliament, our political system, then that didn't work particularly well. But, since coming back here last November, everyone who is still around here now and who was around back then has expressed an opinion on the matter to me—and I mean everyone, whether it be members of this chamber, members of the House of Representatives, journalists, others in the press gallery, staff on committees and others—that things have gotten worse. They use a variety of different words but they all say roughly the same thing. This place is nastier, it's stupider, it's more dysfunctional and it's less effective at doing the job that we are all meant to be here doing and that we all get paid and overpaid to do. We are here to represent and work with the community in a way which ensures we are a united caring society, which protects our natural environment and provides economic security for all of us. As so many people have noted over the course of this week, over that whole period of time since 2008, we've seen nothing but instability delivered through our political system during the Liberal Party and National Party governments and the Labor Party when they were in power.
The other difference between 2008 and now is that 2008 saw the end of the Australian Democrats party in this place and the period when the Greens were building into a stronger, more solidly grounded party. The Greens have now unequivocally consolidated ourselves as the most successful independent third party in Australian political history. With our breakthrough win in the Brisbane based seat of Maiwar in the state elections in Queensland last year, we now have representation in every state parliament, as well as the ACT, where we have a minister as part of that government. We have won a seat on the Brisbane City Council, the biggest local government authority in the country.
Having now served two very different terms in the Senate, over 10 years apart, I can say with confidence that this is the last time I will be on the floor of the Senate. There will not be a third coming back to this chamber. If I do return to Parliament House, it will be as a member of the House of Representatives. As I announced early this year, I have decided I will not contest pre-selection for the Senate seat that I currently hold and will instead seek to build on the strong local momentum the Queensland Greens achieved in the recent state election by trying to win the lower house seat of Brisbane, a place I've lived and worked in and where I've been part of so many community activities over my whole life. The seat, of course, is currently held by the Liberal Party.
By resigning my seat early, rather than serving out my term, it will also be the only time someone elected to this place to replace someone as a result of a section 44 disqualification—examples of which go all the way back to former senator Robert Wood—has not served out their term, but, instead, allowed the person they replaced to come back into this chamber. One of the reasons I have done that is that I know, and the people of Queensland know, that former senator Larissa Waters has done and will do again a good job in this chamber. She should be back here when the Senate resumes again in a fortnight's time. It remains a key goal of mine and of the Greens in Queensland that she be re-elected at the next election. If the Greens do not retain that Senate voice in Queensland, it will mean an extra voice in this place for the forces of the far Right, who will push for a more divided and unequal society. So retaining that Senate voice in Queensland is crucial.
Whilst I readily acknowledge that adding to that by winning a House of Representatives seat will be a challenge, the Greens did achieve a similar breakthrough at the state election in winning the seat of Maiwar off the Liberal Party — a victory which happened just a week after I was sworn into this chamber for a second time, back in November last year. The sorts of swings the Greens would need to win Brisbane are similar to the swings the party achieved not just in Maiwar but also in the nearby seats of McConnel and South Brisbane. We achieved those swings by talking to people on the ground in community based, ground-level campaigning—communicating, listening and making people aware that there is a credible alternative to the failed approach of the two other parties, which are still in the thrall of the corporations that donate so much money to them.
According to information provided to me by the Parliamentary Library, since 1901 there have been 20 people who have resigned from the Senate in an attempt to win a House of Representatives seat. Fourteen of those were successful and six were unsuccessful. All but one of those 20 stayed in their Senate seat until the date of the election or by-election they were contesting had been formally announced. The one exception, who I also have a linkage to, is Cheryl Kernot. She, quite honourably, resigned her seat earlier, for the very appropriate reason that, as part of her decision to contest the lower house, she also switched parties. She was successful, at least initially, in doing that.
On most occasions that a former senator has attempted to win a seat in the House of Representatives, it has been done by people from the larger parties shifting into safe seats. The closest parallel to my situation was the attempt by another former Leader of the Democrats, the late Janine Haines, someone whose contribution as a pioneering female political leader in this country isn't acknowledged adequately. She resigned her seat in this chamber to try to win the House of Representatives seat of Kingston back in 1990. Despite that effort inspiring millions of Australians to shift their vote away from the two traditional parties for the first time, and delivering a higher vote for that party than they achieved before or subsequently, she was, nonetheless, not successful in that aim. The Greens have, of course, since gone one better and won seats in the lower house, both with the by-election win by Michael Organ in the seat of Cunningham in 2002, and, more significantly in terms of ongoing, sustainable political change, the election and re-election of Adam Bandt in the seat of Melbourne, three times now since 2010.
To transform politics, to get transformative change, we need to build on that record and build the number of Greens in the House of Representatives. There a number of other strong chances for the Greens in Melbourne based seats at the next election. And, having lived in Brisbane all my life and seen all the changes that have happened there, socially and politically, I genuinely believe Brisbane presents an opportunity as well. I certainly say that for those people in Brisbane—and I bet there are more of them today than there were at the start of this week—that want to get rid of this Liberal government, the Greens at this election are better placed to win the seat of Brisbane than the Labor Party. We've been knocking on doors throughout that electorate for three months already, and I thank those many volunteers who are already part of that campaign team. I've been part of many of those doorknocks myself, and I am convinced there is a mood for a shift away from the failures of leadership, the failures of vision and the failures to deliver a future for all of us that we've seen from both the coalition and Labor governments over the last decade, since I was last in this place. People are keen for a change to a credible, experienced, independent alternative. That's what I'm focusing my attentions on from now until whenever the election might be called. I believe that is the transformative change we need.
I thank all of those in this place who've assisted me and supported me during my time back here. I wish all of you, on a personal level, well for the future. I think we all would recognise that we need an improved future for all of us, and the sooner the better.