Thursday, 14 February 2019
by leave—Tonight, I have a fairly unique Valentine's gift for my husband, Daryl: my resignation from parliament. I give notice that tomorrow I will present my resignation to you, Mr President. It's now time for Daryl and me to smell the roses. In the next chapter of our lives we are going to live the lifestyle we imagined when we were young. The last 24 years have been quite a wild ride for both of us. When I was first sworn into this place I was not only the sole woman in the Victorian federal parliamentary Labor Party but also the only woman in maternity attire. Our son, James, arrived a short time later. Look at the size of him now! I recall that on another occasion when I wore that maternity dress I was quietly asked by Kay Patterson if I was expecting again.
Political life is not conducive to building family life, for reasons that many of us have outlined, but we managed, which is perhaps not ideal. But I'm very proud of the family that we have formed, with the considerable support of my mother, Shirley. It took longer than usual for our Maddison, my youngest, to grace us. She is currently stuck in exams at the University of Sydney, so she is not joining us. She would actually rather be here, as we can all imagine. My eldest son, Ben, has added three beautiful grandchildren, Charlotte, Sophia and Oliver. Like all families, we've had our losses. I have discussed my father and the care he had at Villa Maria previously. Our beautiful Ruby was lost too soon and, indeed, Daryl's mother was lost to us as well.
Daryl has carried the brunt of the career compromises, the family duties and the isolation that this job involves. I am very fortunate and thankful that we as a family have remained intact. Perhaps my misfortune in leaving this place mid-parliamentary-career allowed us as a family to regroup. I'm very conscious that there but for the grace of God go I, as we all know the high number of family lives that dissolve under the pressure of parliamentary life.
It has been an extraordinary privilege to be here. I'll not revisit what has already been canvassed in the media since my announcement that I will no longer be contesting the next election, but I do want to take a brief moment to express my thanks to many people for the support and respect that has been granted to me, not only by my party colleagues and the broader Labor movement but also by my political opponents and other colleagues in this place and the other place. I also want to express my thanks to everyone who supports all of us here, from the clerks and our attendants to our cleaners. We can all be thankful for the support we get on a day-to-day basis in this house and beyond.
But I give special thanks to my long-suffering staff. I am fortunate that we have had among my staff over many years an elite club of return performers, many future leaders across several fields and long-serving, dedicated and loyal people. For example, Daniel Mulino, a Victorian member of parliament, will contest the next election in the new federal seat of Fraser; Raff Ciccone will replace me in the Senate; and Debbie Dalmau and Felicity Defombelle have served all of us well. Thank you also to Michael Donovan and the SDA for their longstanding support.
I say 'we' in discussing these contributions because the whole federal parliamentary Labor Party and, indeed, the federal parliament and the Australian community, have benefited from their contributions, most recently in their service whilst I've been Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate—although I understand the government doesn't necessarily like my help sometimes—
but also when I was shadow cabinet secretary, as well as in the education portfolio and many other roles over the years. My period has had too few years in government, but I love to share my passion for the Australian democracy, where so much can be achieved from opposition, especially through Senate estimates—and I wish my colleagues well for next week.
A good example of effective opposition is the work I was involved in investigating the establishment of a National Integrity Commission, which Labor has now adopted as a policy to establish in its first year of government. Indeed, the government has now conceded what I would call a pale imitation following these endeavours.
Before signing off, I want to debunk one myth: I do not represent a dying breed in the Labor Party. Those who come to our great party or broad church from a base of Christian social principles are not disappearing. In some respects we are stronger now than during some other periods over which I've served over the last two decades: just look at the recent euthanasia debate. It serves the interests of some on the far Left and the Far right of politics to dismiss and diminish us, but I thank the many people across a wide spectrum who do not.
The current example of this concerns religious freedom. On this issue, the Australian Labor Party has a strong, clear and long-standing policy position that others seek to deny. Labor's national platform clearly states the principle that Labor supports the appropriate protection of religious freedom of all people. Senators Keneally and Pratt moved a resolution at our recent national conference which was carried, and I'll quote a few sections of it. It affirmed:
… the Australian Labor Party stands for recognition and protection of fundamental political and civil rights, including religious freedom.
It also affirmed that the Labor Party:
Finally, and significantly, the motion affirmed that the Australian Labor Party would:
Before concluding, may I make a few brief remarks about this week's decision on refugee medical transfers, because it is satisfying to me to see a small step forward in respecting and upholding the dignity of those perilous people who have been incarcerated indefinitely on Manus Island and Nauru. I believe Australians are fair and decent people, and that has come through, ultimately, in spades over my two decades here. Australians do not want to see refugees languishing forever. While we all endorse the policy objective of deterrence, it is abhorrent to use people's lives to achieve such a goal. I regret that officials did not alert Labor when we were in government that boat interceptions or turnbacks could safely occur. Much of what followed might not have subsequently occurred. In my view, the coalition's record on this issue is shameful. I was reminded of what they did in opposition in relation to the Malaysia solution when we had a delegation from Malaysia here earlier this week. The position on the Malaysian solution was reprehensible.
It's time now to say goodbye. To those who remain in this federal parliament, I wish you all the courage to speak out on issues that matter to Australian families, the wisdom to carefully consider policies and ideas, and the calm in achieving consensus outcomes. This is not to say I don't thrive in an adversarial system, but I think some calm and some focus on consensus may serve the Australian public more broadly. I wish you all well, particularly my good friend Senator Gavin Marshall on the Victorian Senate ticket. Thank you.