Senate debates

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Parliamentary Representation


5:04 pm

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

Let me begin by acknowledging the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation from whose land I am speaking today, the Ngunawal and Ngambri people on whose land our national parliament meets and the traditional owners of the lands from right across the country.

Mr President, I hope you don't mind me saying that, after announcing my resignation—I'm going to share this with the rest of the world—you sent me a cheeky text message saying that you wouldn't kick me out of the Senate during my final speech. Now I'm not sure how you're going to do that from Melbourne, but I'm going to do my best to behave.

I didn't expect that my final speech would take place in a virtual parliament from a locked down city amid a global pandemic. It's a pandemic that's causing untold suffering and hardship across the world. It's a pandemic that follows a devastating summer of bushfires. And it's a pandemic that concludes my decade in this parliament. Over that decade, six different prime ministers have come and gone, climate change remains a festering sore on our body politic, economic inequality has been entrenched, race politics has reared its ugly head again and the gap with our First Nations peoples has grown. If ever there was a time for deep reflection and for a reset of our national politics, this is it.

Like many people right across the country, I've had plenty of time to reflect these past few months, and I leave the Australian parliament knowing that, despite the turmoil of the past decade, our nation is a better place because of what we Greens have achieved.

One of the first votes that I cast in this place is one of my proudest, as we delivered the world's best climate laws. The Clean Energy Act was a result of the power-sharing arrangement between the Labor Party, the Greens and Independents, and it showed what could be achieved when politicians ditched the partisanship and cooperated in the national interest. Not long after that, I was fortunate to be able to negotiate a $4 billion dental package to provide millions of children with free Medicare funded dental care. 'How good's this?' I thought. Thanks to the Greens, we had a price on carbon, we had billions of dollars flowing into renewable energy projects and we had the first stage of our Denticare plan to roll out Medicare funded dental care to Australians across the country. In politics, just as in life, sometimes you don't know how good things are until they're gone. That power-sharing arrangement may have been tarnished by former prime ministers' quests for vengeance, but it was one of the most productive periods in the nation's history.

The Abbott government that followed is infamous for many reasons, but the jaw-dropping 2014 budget, with its full-frontal assault on Medicare and on schools, is seared in my memory. It was like a horror story. Each election, millions of people vote for the Greens because they share our values. But they also vote for us to hold bad governments to account, and that was never more important than during those Abbott years.

But the great privilege was taking on the leadership of the Australian Greens just as that government ended, and I like to think that those two things may have been connected. Leadership was a responsibility that weighed very heavily on me. As leader, I confronted successive conservative governments and spent much of my time fighting their attacks on the environment and on people doing it tough. But I'm also proud that, along the way, we achieved some real wins for people. Securing $100 million in funding for Landcare as part of our solution to the backpacker tax stand-off was a good day.

Before I was elected to parliament, I often thought these things were the product of careful deliberation and a thorough policy process. But it was a tense meeting with the leader of the Senate in the corridor that allowed us to achieve a great outcome for farmers and for the environment. It took a 28-hour sitting to democratise voting in the Senate after the Labor Party reversed its position and threw everything at us. The Greens policy was based on the very novel idea that, in a democracy, the outcome of an election should reflect how people vote, not backroom deals between political parties. There were lots of wonderful offerings during that long and ugly debate that night, but listening to a senator compare the bill to his colonoscopy had me questioning my life choices.

After years of campaigning against multinational tax-dodging, we negotiated important laws that increased penalties on corporations for tax avoidance and profit-shifting. Labor attacked us because the laws didn't go far enough, but when will Labor learn that you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good? Sam Dastyari, of course, led the attack with memes and posters and even a billboard decrying 'Di Natale's dirty deals'. Sam, of course, was an expert on the subject of dirty deals.

Working across the political divide carries real risk for a party like ours. We didn't benefit electorally from the power-sharing arrangement with the then Gillard government, but we got some really important policy wins. Getting good policy outcomes on the rare occasions we negotiated with the Liberals also gave our rivals plenty of ammunition, and it did cut across our own message. But I firmly believe that we owe it to the millions of people who vote for us to roll up our sleeves and deliver Greens policy for them.

Leading our team in walking out of parliament during Senator Hanson's first speech, rather than sitting in quiet acceptance of her racist views or, worse still, shaking her hand afterwards is another proud moment. Within hours of doing that, our office was flooded with calls, mostly from people from the Australian Muslim community, many in tears, just thankful that they were not alone. Often, during my time in parliament, I felt like I was shouting in the wind. But, in that moment, I knew that our message of solidarity was being heard where it mattered most.

I'm proud to have led the party that supported marriage equality long before it was a popular cause and worked tirelessly with campaigners from across the community for decades until it became law. Our work behind the scenes in exposing the corporate greed in our banking and financial sector was critical in helping secure a banking royal commission. When we first advocated for a levy on the big banks, the Liberals slammed us for our economy-wrecking socialist policies. A decade later, they introduced one. It gave me great satisfaction to be upstairs in the ABC's studios at Parliament House doing a radio interview with Senator Paterson, freshly out of the Institute of Public Affairs and now defending another sensible Greens idea.

Greens legislation for a national integrity commission to root out corruption was rejected outright by both sides for almost a decade, but we finally won. Now it's time to make sure that an anticorruption watchdog is up to the job of fighting corruption and is not just window dressing. Medicinal cannabis would still be illegal in Australia if it weren't for the Greens. It took our bill to gain cross-party support and joint press conferences with people like renowned Greens hater and LNP senator Ian Macdonald for the government to finally start listening. We've been a lone voice in this place on sensible drug policy, with reforms like pill testing, supervised injecting facilities and adult-use cannabis. And I know there are MPs in this place who agree with us; I just wish they wouldn't find their voice only once they've left parliament.

The citizenship scandal that saw us lose two fine senators was one of my toughest times in that place. The first phone call, from Senator Ludlam, came out of the blue, and it triggered a series of events that cast a shadow over the 45th Parliament. A Perth lawyer had been digging around and he discovered that Scott had left New Zealand as a three-year-old and had not renounced his citizenship. I initially thought that the second call, just days later, from Senator Waters was a joke. She told me that she was still waiting for legal confirmation but she believed that she had unknowingly held Canadian citizenship. The legal advice was clear: they were both ineligible to sit in parliament. It's an archaic section of our Constitution and it needs to be changed, but there was no question about what to do next. In the space of a week they had both resigned and I had lost my two deputy leaders. We had let down our members and supporters, the Prime Minister called us sloppy and extraordinarily negligent and the right-wing media went into overdrive, as they do. Of course, we all know what happened in the weeks and months that followed: politicians from all sides were outed, except this time there were delays, denials, blame and expensive High Court challenges at the taxpayers' expense. It's one thing to talk about personal responsibility in this place; it's another thing to demonstrate it.

So I leave here feeling incredibly proud of our team, who have behaved with integrity and achieved so much. I leave with a deep sense of personal fulfilment that comes from fighting for a cause bigger than yourself. But, if I'm being really honest, I also leave knowing that successive parliaments in which I've served have failed to achieve lasting reforms on the things that matter: climate change, homelessness, job insecurity, mental illness and protection of our environment.

It's easy to put these flaws down to the personal failings of individual prime ministers, but the failings of the past decade are much bigger than that. The very structures that underpin our democracy—many of them established a century ago, have been incapable of responding to the challenges before us. We are currently living through a pandemic of which we were warned but unprepared for. Our National Medical Stockpile was inadequate. Health workers were unable to get masks and we lacked the basic capacity to make our own. Victorians are now locked up in their houses because of the failure of a quarantine system, which failed due to a culture of outsourcing and privatisation. Ongoing outbreaks in aged-care facilities have revealed the ugly truth of how we care, or don't care, for the elderly.

We were warned about the threat of a global pandemic, and we've been warned time and again about the threat of catastrophic climate change. And yet the coalition, the Labor Party, the business community and even sections of the union movement are divided over this issue. Despite having the technological tools to address it, despite significant public support and despite a litany of climate fuelled disasters, they remain incapable of reaching internal agreement. The Liberal Party once believed in protecting the environment—in the notion of conservation. Today they're dominated by a reactionary rump that represents corporate rent-seekers who want protection from technological change, like renewable energy. Today, with the climate crisis spiralling out of control, Labor's climate policy is weaker than it was a decade ago. The Labor Party lost me many, many years ago, but they're going to lose a lot more people if they don't muster up a bit of courage and take a stand on climate change. The Business Council worked hand-in-glove with the Abbott government to tear down our climate laws, only to leave their members hopelessly exposed to the risks posed by climate change. All they offer now is lip-service in support of climate action but criticism of anyone with a meaningful plan to do something about it. And during last year's election campaign we had a powerful mining union in Queensland forcing candidates to sign a pledge in support of coalmining and denying them a chance of a long-term future.

Not so long ago, our major newspapers would hold these institutions and our political parties to account. Today they host fundraisers for them. The dominant Murdoch media continues to shamelessly promote climate denialism and the ABC has been worn down by relentless attacks and ongoing budget cuts. Social media, which was getting started a decade ago, promised to take power away from media moguls and to democratise debate by giving citizens a voice. Instead, it has become a platform for extremes, where conspiracy theories flourish and where anonymity plays to the worst of human instincts. Our institutions no longer reflect who we are or who we want to become. We urgently need a new era of sweeping political and economic reform, and it has to start by making our democracy work for people and not for corporations.

The first political fight I saw up close in this place was when I watched a cashed-up gambling lobby descend on Parliament House like a pack of vultures and shamelessly sink popular pokies reform. Since that time, I've seen the same story play out over and over and over again, whether it's the mining tax, alcohol regulation or action on climate change. The formula they use is always the same: keep the donations flowing; deploy an army of lobbyists, preferably politicians, so they can exploit their connections; host fundraisers; run big campaigns against anyone who threatens your bottom line; pay thousands to get a seat at the minister's table, and the bigger the cheque, the better the seat. That awful new fence that surrounds Parliament House now is symbolic of this rotten culture. We've closed off the building to the community but we've thrown the gates wide open to vested interests with deep pockets. A representative democracy should represent the full diversity of its citizens. Instead, ours represents a political class who tread the well-worn path of student politics to political staffer to parliamentary politics. Our parliament and the Australian nation are two different countries. We need more women, more people from different cultural and economic backgrounds, more young people in our parliament. It shouldn't take a pandemic to force the introduction of technologies like the one we're using right now, which is going to make it easier for parents and carers and people with disabilities—those from rural backgrounds—to engage in our democracy.

Our parliament is not representative of how people vote, either. The National Party, with about four per cent of the national vote, returns 16 lower house MPs. The Greens, with almost three times that vote, returns one MP. Yet for nearly two decades a tiny, overrepresented, anticlimate party has been crucial in blocking action on climate change. If we had proportional representation so that our national parliament fairly represented the wishes of voters, the climate change debate would be largely over.

This pandemic has demonstrated the critical role of looking after people. We've got to get our democracy working for people. The pandemic has also exposed the lie that government can't support those in need. For years, the low rate of Newstart condemned people to a life of poverty, and that has only changed because millions more Australians have been forced to live that reality. We now effectively have a universal income, and it should stay. We've been gradually heading towards a two-tier, privatised, American style health system, but we know the best insurance against any pandemic is Medicare and our precious public health system. The crisis has again exposed a tough reality for people in insecure and inadequate housing. We need a massive new build of public housing, which would create jobs and investment.

Online communication has been critical for people during this period of isolation, keeping people connected and allowing businesses to continue functioning. It's now an essential service. Free access to high-quality internet would give many more people opportunity to flourish.

And real action on climate change is nation building. Phasing out dirty, expensive, coal-fired power and gas and replacing it with renewable energy means thousands of new jobs. There are jobs, too, in building network infrastructure and new storage systems and in the electrification of our transport system. Investment in revegetation and—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Di Natale—if you can hear me—we are having trouble hearing you.

5:24 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

To assist the chamber, I move that we have a brief suspension until we can resolve the technical issues.

Question agreed to.

Sitting suspended from 17:25 to 17:29

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

Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a functioning NBN right now!

Perhaps I'll just reflect upon the disappointments of the past few decades. I do leave parliament hopeful that things will change; I do. Unlike the response to climate change, state and federal governments have ditched the partisanship and have been guided by evidence in responding to this pandemic. It's absolutely true, some terrible mistakes have been made, and they deserve scrutiny. But I also want to acknowledge the many sensible, life-saving decisions, too. There's also a strong sense of solidarity in the community. It's been a really, really tough year for many people. Many people are struggling. But the vast majority of people understand that this shared sacrifice is required in order to get us through this together. It's also a moment when people have been given space to think deeply about what's important in life. We're social creatures. We rely on human contact. We rely on each other. It's a moment like this that puts a lie to the dog-eat-dog, rampant individualism that has formed the basis of our politics for far too long.

I'm optimistic because social movements are building around the world, too, and throughout history it's these movements that have driven change. Right now collective action on climate change, racism, sexism and inequality is gathering steam. I remember leaving parliament once, feeling especially demoralised after a particularly brutal sitting week, and it was the tens of thousands of passionate, engaged young people at the climate strike the following day that gave me the strength and energy to keep fighting. I want to thank them.

I leave politics feeling confident about the Greens, too. I joined the Victorian Greens two decades ago. We had no state or federal representation, and over what is a short period of time we've elected dozens of state and federal MPs and local government councils right across the country. Our party is strong and resilient. We have the support of millions of Australians, and we're the only party with genuine solutions to today's problems. That doesn't mean we can't do better. We need to continue building a culture of accountability and respect. It's easy to focus on yourself or perform for a small and noisy crowd, but success lies in reaching outwards and engaging meaningfully with people from right across the community, and that's what our members, supporters and volunteers do every day. None of us would be here without their commitment, their passion—working tirelessly, giving their time, sharing their ideas and talking to real people to get more Greens elected.

To everyone who's knocked on doors, made calls, stood at polling booths in the middle of winter, demanded change at rallies, shown solidarity at vigils and done so much more to make this country better, I want to thank each and every one of you. To all of my staff, who have worked so hard for so long this past decade, thanks so much for the long hours, the weekends, the travel away from home, the pep talks and the wise counsel—and just for listening to me whinge. I'm not going to name anyone today, but you know who you are, and I will be forever grateful.

To my team of wonderful Greens MPs: thank you for your unwavering support. You are all incredible human beings, and it has been a privilege to lead this incredible team. To Adam: you're going to do us proud. To other MPs across the political divide: I know that most of you are here because you believe in making Australia a better place, and I genuinely wish all of you every success in making the next decade better than the last.

To all the people who keep our parliament functioning—the clerks, the Senate attendants, the cleaners and the gardeners—thank you so much. To the COMCAR drivers with whom I've spent many a long drive: just thanks for your company. It's been a privilege.

And to my family: Lucy, thank you for your incredible support these past 10 years. I could not have done this without you, and I hope I can support you in your career, just as you have done in mine, as we raise two fine young boys. To my boys: time to get the footy boots out, because your old man's back in town. To my mum and dad, who have ridden every bump along the way in support of their little boy: thank you for all of your love—and thanks, Mum, for all those packages of lasagne that I managed to sneak into Parliament House.

In my first speech almost a decade ago, fresh faced and optimistic, I quoted Martin Luther King, who said: 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' Now older and greyer after a tough decade in parliament, my faith in that idea is a little shaken, but not broken. Sure, there've been setbacks this past decade, but it will bend towards justice again. It will bend because we will bend it together. Thank you so much.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Di Natale. I thank you for your understanding.

5:35 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to have so much of Senator Di Natale's speech as was inaudible incorporated in the Hansard.

Leave is granted.

The speech read as follows—

The document was unavailable at the time of publishing—

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to acknowledge and to congratulate Senator Richard Di Natale on his service to the Senate and to the nation as a Greens senator for Victoria for 10 years and as the Leader of the Greens for five years. We would often disagree during debates in this chamber and, indeed, during debates in the lead-up to various elections in which we were both candidates. In fact, I disagree with much of what Senator Di Natale had to say in his speech just now—in particular, about the performance of our government.

But outside the battles in this chamber I have always found Senator Di Natale to be an unfailingly courteous, professional and trustworthy partner to engage with. There is much which can be achieved on a foundation of trust—even, and in particular, across party lines—including sitting down in the government's senators lobby to what Senator Di Natale apparently thinks was an impromptu catch-up, but was, of course, absolutely organised. And, I have to say, Senator Di Natale, and Senator Whish-Wilson at the time, did approach the issue that we were dealing with at that particular point in time, the backpacker tax arrangements, with a very constructive, positive attitude, seeking to find a sensible resolution—perhaps not perfectly what the Greens would have been looking for, but nevertheless a more sensible landing ground. And, of course, in that context we also reached agreement in relation to $100 million in additional funding for Landcare, which was secured by the Australian Greens as part of that discussion at the time.

Another issue which I personally was very closely engaged with Senator Di Natale on, and with Senator Lee Rhiannon at the time too, who was the Greens spokesperson on electoral matters, is the whole issue of Senate voting reforms. I think we ended up with just short of 40 hours of debate, including more than 20 hours straight. I think at 4.30 pm on a Thursday afternoon we resumed debate on the Senate voting reforms and we finished somewhere around one or two on the Friday afternoon. I would have much rather, after an appropriate time, brought the debate to a close with the traditional time management motion. But, as we were going through quorum call after quorum call at one, two, three and four o'clock in the morning, Senator Di Natale was holding firm to the principles of democracy and that this issue had to be debated out properly.

It was an important reform because, up until that time, until the Senate agreed to endorse that particular reform to Senate voting arrangements, it was so-called preference whisperers that were dealing and trading the second and subsequent voting preferences of Australian voters behind closed doors in so-called group voting tickets. The reforms that the Greens and the government together put in place through that particular piece of legislation put the power, not just over the first voting preference but over any subsequent voting preference when voting for the Senate, where it belongs: in the hands of every individual Australian voter. That is a reform that Senator Di Natale and the Greens, together with the government, can continue to look back on with great pride.

I did a bit of research in preparation for this, looking at Senator Di Natale's background. I see that he, like me, was born in 1970; he has turned 50, and I'm turning 50 in a couple of months time. Fifty is clearly the new age at which to retire from the Senate—interesting! The other thing that Senator Di Natale, Senator Wong and I have in common, as leaders of parties in the Senate, is that all three of us are from migrant backgrounds. It is a great demonstration of the wonderful, migrant, multicultural society that Australia has become, that the leaders of three parties making contributions through this place have migrant backgrounds. In Senator Wong's case and my case, we are first generation, and in Senator Di Natale's case, second generation.

I absolutely wish Richard and his wife Lucy and their two boys a happy, healthy, satisfying future. On behalf of the government and Liberal senators in this chamber, congratulations, Richard, on your contributions to our vibrant democracy over the 10 years that you have served with distinction in this chamber and best wishes for your future.

5:41 pm

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

I rise on behalf of the Labor Party to acknowledge the valedictory remarks of Senator Di Natale and to reflect on his contribution to the Senate. He has served just over nine years in this place—elected as a senator for Victoria in 2010 and taking his seat in 2011. Richard has made a particular impact in health policy, multiculturalism and, of course, for five years, as Leader of the Australian Greens.

When Richard entered the parliament, he was one of a new wave of Greens senators. The 2010 election was a high point for the Greens electorally. The party increased its representation from three to nine after returning a senator from each of the six states, including Senator Di Natale, and that gave them the balance of power. It placed Senator Di Natale in the national parliament at a significant time for his party in his home state and in Canberra. I think he was the first Greens senator elected by Victoria.

Senator Richard Di Natale has been the Greens representative or spokesperson on health policy throughout his time as a senator. I recall sitting here for his first speech, when he spoke of his experiences in medicine, including working in community health as a general practitioner, in Aboriginal health in the Northern Territory and with the Nossal Institute for Global Health. This knowledge and understanding of how health policy affects people at a practical level, and in significantly disadvantaged communities in particular, has been evident in his approach as a parliamentarian and in the way he sought to advance policies with a focus on prevention was in recognition of the fact that so many of the illnesses he had been called upon to treat were entirely preventable. He also recognised that many of the factors that influence health and wellbeing lie outside our health system and that improvement in areas such as housing, water, sanitation and involvement in community are critical indicators. Individual health is inextricably linked to the health of our society. This is something that Senator Di Natale brought to his work and it's something that is worth all of us reflecting upon—and it is something illustrated by the current pandemic.

One aspect of Senator Di Natale's political leadership I wish to reflect on is his support and advocacy for a multicultural Australia. This is at the core of his own identity. In his first speech he reflected on the journey his parents had taken from Italy to settle in Australia: his mother as a young girl with her parents and his father as a 29-year-old man. Their migrant story is one echoed by so many Australians of multiple generations; people who combined hope for a new future with hard work to build their lives in a new country. He reflected that from these beginnings his family has contributed teachers, doctors, factory workers, builders, lawyers and a senator. He was right to say that multiculturalism is one of Australia's enduring successes and is an opportunity to focus on those things which unite us. He named respect for our democratic institutions, for universal human rights and for equality of opportunity. Its intrinsic value, he noted, comes through the relationships formed with people from different cultures, offering as they do important insights into our own. Throughout his parliamentary career, he has emphasised the importance of multiculturalism, including in his leadership of the Senate Select Committee on Strengthening Multiculturalism.

As Labor senators stated in their additional comments to the report of that committee, leadership from the parliament is an important factor in multiculturalism and its success, because we all have a role to play, collectively and as an institution. We have the opportunity in this place to shape community norms and we all have a responsibility to encourage cohesion in the Australian community. Regrettably, there are some in this place who seek to use race as a political weapon, despite everything history has taught us about where that leads and despite the pain and trauma that inevitably brings to fellow Australians. Richard Di Natale has always resisted these forces. He has been a consistent opponent of political efforts to sow division on the basis of race. He has been a voice for an inclusive Senate and an inclusive Australia, and I thank him for this.

Senator Richard Di Natale served as the Greens leader from May 2015 to February of this year. He knows any leader of a parliamentary party bears a significant responsibility. Some of the things we deal with are clear, but most are nuanced. The simplicity of the stories politicians tell can often conceal wicked complexity, because most of our decisions ultimately involve trade-offs. It was to the Greens' credit that they finally embraced those trade-offs in engaging with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to put a price on carbon. The full extent of Senator Di Natale's influence on this is something we may never know. I do note that the climate package the Greens supported under Prime Minister Gillard was one that gave more concessions to carbon-intensive industry—a browner package than the CPRS that I had put before the Senate a couple of years before and that the Greens voted with the Liberal Party to defeat. The fact that the Greens voted with the Liberals against a less brown package before Senator Di Natale arrived and then voted for a browner package after he arrived suggests he might have helped them come to see the need for a more collaborative approach if they wanted to get something done. The stakes were too high for squabbling, and they still are. The climate emergency was barrelling towards us, and only action could avert the coming crisis.

I would never want to say our words do not matter—they do; especially as senators we need to choose them carefully—but, ultimately, science doesn't care about how fine our words are. It only responds to actions. Doctors know that when faced with a critical patient they need to act, not wait for the perfect and miraculous solution. In parliament, as in life, we rarely get to choose between something we think is perfect and something we think is irredeemable. As recently as this week, the new leadership of the Greens, and Senator Di Natale himself today, pointed to the Gillard years as a template. I would encourage them to recall that that period involved considerable compromise on their part, including supporting a browner climate policy than the one they had said was too brown. I urge recognition that change only comes through finding common cause with people who are different, and persuading those who do not agree with us. Anything less and we are part of the problem we claim needs to be solved. I would hope this is a perspective that Senator Di Natale shares, because politics should not just be performative; it ultimately must be substantive.

Finally, I want to observe that Richard has chosen the timing of his departure from this place. It is not a choice all of us have the luxury of making. I hope he does so happy with what he has contributed and with energy and enthusiasm for what lies next. Hopefully, it will involve much more time with his family, Lucy and his two sons and, of course, some time on the farm as he desires. Recalling a story he once told about his activities on the farm, I will just say to him: if you ever need someone to sample the next batch of salami or capicola, remember there are fewer vegetarians in the Labor Party!

Can I say on a personal level that I have enjoyed working with Senator Richard Di Natale. We have disagreed on much. Has always been decent and trustworthy in my private dealings with him. I wish him all the very best in his future endeavours.

5:50 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise with some short remarks from the National Party on the retirement of Senator Di Natale. We associate ourselves, obviously, with the comments from the government leader, Senator Cormann. It might seem a little odd, Senator Di Natale, that The Nationals wish you all the very best in your retirement, but we really do.

Senator Di Natale and I arrived here in the same batch of senators representing the same fabulous state and sharing a passion for the great code, AFL. I know he's looking forward to getting the boots on with the boys after today. It's a great privilege to serve the great state of Victoria. To be fair, other than probably two instances in our entire careers, we've been at polar opposites politically. But I think it's a great testament to this institution, to the people who are called to serve here, irrespective of their political persuasion, that at a time of a new senator's arrival and a senator's deciding to retire we come together as an institution and respect their contribution because we recognise a cohort of Australian people sent them to this place to represent that set of values.

And as violently opposed to most of your values, Richard, the Nationals have been—and I know Senator Canavan recalls a time he offered his 'Start Adani' T-shirt as a jersey swap with your 'Stop Adani' T-shirt after a Q+A appearance—there has been some friendly banter. But we are here to do serious things and to stand up for our values. But we are able to do that respectfully and to acknowledge that we each bring a sense of purpose and a sense of drivenness, knowing that we're representing the needs and interests of people who have sent us here. We disagreed on the role of coal and the mining industry in the Australian economy. We've disagreed on firearm regulation. So, yes, we have disagreed on whether a sugar tax is the best way to combat the obesity epidemic. But we have agreed that a pluralist democracy is the best place to raise our children and to do our very, very best in seeing out our service to our state.

I would like to thank the former leader of the Greens, Senator Di Natale, for sensibly assisting Australian agriculture to get the workforce it needed and also to get a cool $100 million out of Senator Cormann for a great program, Landcare, which is a great, pragmatic way to support conservation programs in rural and regional communities, with community partnering with farmers to get great environmental outcomes. I recall that Senator Di Natale said on seasonal workforce in that debate at the time that if we do not remain competitive in this area then Australian agricultural business are going to lose out. Thank you, because that was a real point of crisis for rural and regional communities. I wish he'd supported other regional job-providing industries in the regions—mining obviously is a key part of that and is something we as a party pursue ad nauseam and with good cause.

Senator Di Natale is also a great advocate of the role of sport in the broader Australian community as an integral part of the national character. I loved his quote:

In my own state of Victoria, for example, the AFL occupies a space somewhere between sport and religion.

He's right. I hope he gets to enjoy a lot more of that in his time off.

Thank you for your service, Senator Di Natale. I hope you enjoy some time with your family out in rural and regional Victoria, the great south-west. I'll send you a membership form. After a bit of time on the land out in the community, you might appreciate the National Party's contribution here. Thank you for your service. The battle of ideas is so important, and we on our side and in our party absolutely value diversity of ideas, of which you've been a key contributor. Thank you.

5:55 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the Australian Greens with a real sadness to farewell a dear friend of ours, Senator Richard Di Natale. We're sad to lose him from our party room, but we are so happy to see the spring in his step and the ease with which a smile comes to his face these days. After 10 years in this place and five as the leader of a political party it's no mean feat to retain your humanity, your sense of humour, your sense of perspective and your compassion for the world and for others. Richard is a truly remarkable human being. I think I speak for many people—certainly I speak for everyone in our party room—in saying that we're going to miss him dearly. He's a dear friend to all of us, and I think he has made an enormous improvement to the culture of the parliament and to this chamber.

I was really honoured to serve him as a deputy leader. I'm sorry about the section 44 thing, Richard, for all of the stress that caused you in what was a torrid time! But it was another situation that you handled with grace and an impeccable calmness and kindness. Richard's gone through some of the amazing achievements that he has been proud to deliver in his time as Leader of the Greens. I'm conscious that Richard has to leave in about 15 minutes, so I'm going to keep my remarks fairly brief, because I know many others on our Greens team want to say their farewells as well, but indulge me.

The first time I met Richard was in 2007 when we were both candidates to become senators. We both missed out that time around, but we bonded over some terrible media that we'd both had at the time on a dodgy website. Perhaps I don't need to go into the detail of that! But we then entered the Senate together in the class of 2010, and I've continued to make wonderful memories of my parliamentary work with Richard, including eating Italian in Paris when we went to the climate conference in 2015. Of course we were eating Italian in Paris—it was Richard! On that same visit we both met David Attenborough, and we both became completely starstruck and were tripping over our tongues. I remember getting to see his farm and watching the ease and the loveliness of him and his family together. I remember getting to see a terribly bleached Great Barrier Reef on a trip that we both took after, I think, the first bleaching event. There was then a subsequent one the following season. Just sharing the grief of the starkness of that completely destroyed coral reef is another experience that I won't forget.

Richard's just an all-round decent bloke. I couldn't make a final contribution without acknowledging that I think everybody's mum is in love with him. I'm pretty sure it's not just my mum, Richard! The Hansard has to reflect that. He really has warmth and good sense, which I think encouraged people to really consider what the Greens stand for, to give us a chance and to trust us with their vote. His achievements have been impressive. He's listed many of them: championing marriage equality, working for medevac legislation, fighting for an independent federal anticorruption watchdog, that money for Landcare, leading our party to our second-highest vote at an election in our history—the list could go on, but, fundamentally Richard is an incredibly decent human being. He is a really good person and we will miss his contribution and his considered wisdom in our party room.

I do also have a message from our new leader, the wonderful Adam Bandt, to convey to you, Richard, and to put on the Hansard. Adam says, 'Thanks for your amazing service to our movement over so many years. We're so lucky to have had you as a Greens warrior. You leave a great legacy behind, and I'm sure there's much more to come. We can't wait to see what you do next, but hopefully it involves a bit more surfing, a bit more time with the family and a lot fewer late night phone hook-ups! We will miss you.' Indeed, we will miss you, but we look forward to a lot more catch-ups outside this crazy life, lots more pizza and probably some beer, but I'm bidding for nonna's arancini balls because they're delicious!

I sign off by saying thank you so, so much to Lucy, Luca and Ben—your family—for sharing you with the nation for the last 10 years. We know what a sacrifice that is, and we're deeply grateful for it. We're sorry to miss you and lose you, Richard, but we're so happy that your family's got you back. Thanks so much.

6:00 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Richard, a cracking speech, mate—right up there with some of your best work. And there have been some absolute beauties. My favourite was the 'hang your heads in shame' speech, otherwise known as the 'you should all be ashamed of yourselves' speech, otherwise known as 'you're all a disgrace' speech. Richard is far too modest to quote his own speeches, so I'm going to quickly regale the Senate with a snippet of probably his most famous speech in this place. The context was that the Liberals were embroiled in a leadership challenge, which ultimately saw the demise of former Prime Minister Turnbull. This is what Richard had to say at that time:

It's a disgrace. It's utterly shameful.

We haven't had a stable government in this country for a decade now. I've got a 10-year-old boy, and he's seen half a dozen different prime ministers. We have politicians in this joint who are far more concerned about themselves and their own self-interest than about governing the country. While the Liberal Party have been tearing themselves apart, 100 per cent of New South Wales is in drought; the Great Barrier Reef is on the brink of collapse; there are floods in India; we've got a 12-year-old girl setting herself alight in Nauru; and we've got kids who are in a catatonic state because they've given up hope, locked away in those offshore hellholes. And what's the Liberal Party doing? They're focusing on vengeance and on payback. They're focusing on themselves.

We've got people who can't afford to pay their medical bills right now. We've got young people who are being priced out of an education. There are 100,000 people in this country who are homeless. There are women who fear going home tonight because one woman a week is killed at the hands of a violent partner. And what have we got? We've got this spectacle, this disgrace! You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Boy, you did tee off there, Richard, and you really spoke on behalf of the millions of Australians who supported all of those things that you mentioned and were ashamed at the spectacle that was going on in this place.

Richard would never forgive me if I didn't rebut Senator Wong's political comments in her response to Richard's speech and, in fact, her revisionist history. Let's face it, the CPRS—the 'continue polluting regardless' scheme—was not a better scheme than the clean energy package. It was a much, much worse and browner scheme. If the clean energy package were still in place, Australia would be emitting far, far less than we currently are, whereas if the 'continue polluting regardless' scheme were still in place, Australia would be emitting far, far more than we are now, having not had a price on carbon for so many years thanks to the Liberal and National parties.

Richard, you have been an awesome senator and a fantastic and inspirational leader. You always did what was in the best interests of the Greens and the millions of people who voted for us during your time in this place, and you did so even at significant personal cost. But more important than that is your legacy as a truly beautiful human being who has never lost his humanity. You never lost your humility, you didn't fall for the ego traps that get so many in this place and you always displayed loyalty and consideration for others. Above all else, you are truly an honourable person.

Mate, it's time for you to get a few more waves down around the Bells region—your dodgy knee permitting, and I hope it's continuing to heal up. But, more importantly—I'm sure you'll agree—it's time for you to spend much more time with your beautiful family whom you love so much. So go well and all the best, and I'll see you for a few beers soon.

6:04 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Richard, over the last few weeks I've seen you on Zoom and I've seen a few videos of yours on Facebook. I must say that you look happier, more relaxed and carefree than I have seen you look in the last few years. It's made it very clear to me that the decision you made to step out of parliamentary politics was absolutely the right one at this time. And you deserve to be relaxed and carefree after dedicating a decade of your life to our party and the broader progressive movement as a Greens senator—not to mention years of service before that to the party. You have my utmost respect for your passion and your humanity.

I will never forget the very warm welcome that you and your team gave me when I joined the Senate two years ago. It was your encouragement and your warmth that made me very quickly a part of our team. I've always found it very easy, and very easy to be open with you as well. That's such an important quality in the high-pressure, high-stress environment that we all work in. We've had many agreements and we've also had our disagreements. But do you know what? We've never swept issues under the carpet and we've always come out stronger at the other end. I thank you for always listening to the other's point of view.

I must say that the 2019 election was a highlight for me—the campaign. The hard work of campaigning was done with real collaboration, with real friendship and with a lot of fun along the way as well. I'm so proud that, together, we really pushed the boundaries on social justice and on environmental justice. And you should be very proud of your leadership during that campaign, which won us so many hearts and minds. And all our senators were back here.

But one of the things that I will always remember you for and thank you for, from the bottom of my heart, is speaking so unashamedly about tackling racism. You would never shy from calling out xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism. As a Muslim, migrant woman of colour, who regularly experiences the searing heat of open racism, the dog whistling against migrants and the damaging impacts of hate speech, I know that speaking out is never easy, but you have done it with gusto. Knowing you always had my back and the back of other communities of colour was both reassuring and very encouraging. Our party is now well set to continue and to unapologetically demand racial justice.

I'm sure that once you've had a break, Richard, we'll see some more wild and wonderful things from you, and I look forward to it. In the meantime, enjoy some very well-deserved down-time with your family. Thank you, Richard, and khuda hafiz until I see you again.

6:08 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to associate myself with the comments made by my colleagues in relation to Richard's departure today. I'm sad that Richard is not here to experience it in person and to give his valedictory in this place. Having said that, of course, Richard has always been somebody who hasn't let his technophobia get in the way of being able to do his job. I think that this particular contribution and his valedictory are testimony to that.

Richard, I first met you of course in the 2007 election campaign. We don't have to go into all the gory details, but I was a brand-new mum with a baby in my arms who was five weeks old. We were in Tasmania at a crash course on Senate election campaigning and you were very helpful. It was one of those things where travelling around this country with kids is really difficult, and that was my first experience—having to manage that five weeks on as a new mum. But you were right there, helping all the way. I think that is testimony to how you have approached all of your time in this place, serving not just your community but serving us as a party. And I know the contribution that you made to the Australian Greens beyond the official leadership requirements has been enormous and very, very longstanding.

Of course, Richard first ran for the seat of Melbourne long before he ran for the Senate. He ran in election after election until he got here. He was determined to get to this place. He missed out in the Senate race in 2007 by a whisker. He knows what it's like to get very close, to work very hard and to not get the prize at the end of it. But once he was here, in 2010, one of his proudest moments, I know, was experiencing the passage of that clean energy legislation. I remember how ecstatic Richard was—we all were—that we were finally getting climate action delivered in this place. It's a testament to the fact that we did very well in that election campaign that we were in that position to share in some of those decisions of the Gillard government and that we were actually able to make those changes. Richard has always remained committed to that—that if you come to this place, if you work really hard as part of a political party to get yourself elected, you've got to be able to be practical and you've got to be able to look for the right outcomes. The balance with all of that, of course, is maintaining your principles and maintaining your commitment to the people who put you here. I think Richard has always spoken very well about the need to be pragmatic and the need to get outcomes but also not forgetting why you're here and the real core reason for the change that you want to make.

Richard, thank you for your service. Thank you for your leadership. It's been an absolute hoot at times; it's been intense at others. But your ability to go with it and keep going until the job is done is, I think, a testament to your character and the type of man that you are. Just briefly, before you go, I've got to say sorry that the AFL grand final won't be held in Melbourne this year! Let's bring it to Adelaide and the Adelaide Oval. I'm happy for you to sleep in the spare room at the house if you are so desperate to watch you'll go into quarantine! It's been a wonderful journey working alongside you, with your leadership, and I'm sorry you're not here now for us to celebrate with a couple of drinks.

6:12 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll keep my words short because I know there are a number of people who want to speak and I have already expressed to Richard my deep respect and appreciation for the leadership that he has shown over the years. One of the areas that I haven't mentioned previously and that hasn't really been mentioned here—although people have articulated that you, Richard, worked in Aboriginal health for a long time—is that one of our shared passions is ensuring that we are addressing Aboriginal health in this country. I know that you spent a lot of your early years in medicine working in Aboriginal communities, and I've had the pleasure of visiting some of those communities with you. I saw the way that people responded to your deep commitment, passion and care for the issue and for people, and it has been a pleasure to work with you on those issues.

There are so many issues that you have covered and worked on. I really appreciate the privilege of having worked with you and the leadership that you have shown. You are unfailingly supportive. You always responded in a calm manner whenever any crisis was running—other than in football! Watching the football with Richard is an experience! Richard is absolutely passionate about Richmond. I'm a Dockers supporter, so there's at least one thing that we have never seen eye to eye on! Richard, you will now be able to watch a lot more football, because I know that you will have missed a lot. I've actually never seen you happier, really, than when you are with your family, watching football and shouting at the screen. It reminds me very much of my father-in-law's response when he's watching the Eagles not do very well!

Thank you for all the work that you have done. I've also got a very personal thank you. I'm trying to say this without tearing up. You'll know what I'm talking about. When I got some very terrible news, you walked up to me and you just hugged me, and it helped me so much. But, also, when I was sitting here thinking about that, it reminded me of the fact that we can't hug our loved ones as much as we want to at the moment. The power of that is actually really important, and I'd like us all to remember that in terms of what that means in these circumstances. It also means that I can't hug you now, as I would do if we were all together and celebrating the amazing, amazing work that you have done in this place, which so many people have already articulated.

So thank you for your years of commitment. Thank you for the decade of commitment you have made. I've watched you go greyer! I can hide mine, but I've watched you go greyer. I've witnessed your love and support for your family, and I'm so glad you'll be able to spend more time with them. I also thank them for the sacrifice they made in letting us have you here in this place.

6:16 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm going to take the rare opportunity to make a brief observation myself, if I may, from the chair. When any senator is here for a time, they make their mark, but party leaders make more of a mark because of the consent of their colleagues who elect them and the role that they play in this place.

I must confess that I first met Richard a long time ago. I had the privilege of having him run in the seat I was a voter in many, many times—the state seat of Melbourne. I must confess that I didn't vote for Richard, but that won't surprise him. When Senator Hanson-Young mentioned that he missed out by a whisper in 2007, indeed he did; there was 0.78 per cent separating myself, David Feeney and Richard Di Natale, and he just missed out on that last spot. Living in that area at that time, I noticed that I didn't have to share someone's political views to admire the fact that, in my view as an outsider, Richard Di Natale played a strong role in building the Greens as a political movement, as they were growing in the inner suburbs of Melbourne. He was there in the early days. I remember when they won their first mayoralty in, I think, the City of Yarra. He was one of the people involved in building a political party. Civic involvement is something that I think we can all say is something we wish more people would undertake. That, in itself—building a political movement—is something that strengthens our body politic and it strengthens democracy in this country.

I don't mean to sound trite, but I want to be brief. In this place, we all share a similar aspiration in so many ways. We want to see a society that provides opportunity. We want to see a society that allows people to be healthy in a better lived environment. We disagree very strongly on the means and we disagree sometimes on the priorities, but, importantly, Richard has represented a shared commitment to this place as the way to resolve those—this place as a parliament and as a national parliament. As I've said before, this place—the Senate—represents a much more diverse set of views than the other place, and it plays a unique legislative role in that important aspect of compromise on which all democracy has to be based. We don't have to share views and we don't have to share a starting point, but sharing a process and a commitment to civic involvement, citizen engagement and this parliament is very, very important.

I might also say that I can't really apologise, but, if I had had to pick someone I was going to have to ask to leave the chamber, it wouldn't have been Senator Di Natale at any point! He was very good-natured about a very difficult time. I know that that was a moment of very strong feelings in the Senate, and I do know he genuinely meant the views that he expressed, and I understand why he did. Sometimes being in the chair is not easy.

I'll conclude by saying that, when I had an illness, Richard contacted me a few times. I have always found him a profoundly decent person who cares for his colleagues, as those closest to him have said. I'm not quite 50, but I've obviously made the same decision, and I would just say to him: very best wishes to you, Lucy and your boys. After your leading a political party in our national parliament, which is an extraordinary commitment, with the kilometres travelled and the time away from home, I hope that you and they have so much more opportunity to share the time that your colleagues have benefited from over the last decade.

6:19 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will also be brief, but I really do want to take the opportunity to thank Richard as a friend, as a colleague, as a leader, and not just over his decade in this place, but for the decade in the party beforehand. As a fellow Victorian senator, and a fellow Victorian longstanding member of the Greens, to have worked side by side with Richard for all that time has been really special because of Richard's collaborative approach. Richard, your integrity, your respect, your humanity, your love for people and the planet and your willingness to work together with people—and to have retained all of this through a decade in this place—are massive achievements. Senator Siewert talking about Richard's hugs made me remember when I got my tragic news last September and within minutes Richard was in my office enveloping me in a massive bear hug.

I want to thank you, Richard, for all of your achievements in this place, which you have talked through and other people have talked through. One that hasn't been mentioned is your love for our forests and your love and your passion for the future of the critically endangered Leadbeater's possum. I've had the great privilege of being the forest spokesperson for the Greens in my time in this place, but I knew Richard was just as much with me there in the forests making sure that actions were happening to protect our precious wildlife.

I want to finish by thanking you for all of your unseen work. Having been side by side with you I saw it, to some extent, going on. Our party went through some tough times in your years as leader—things like our troubles in Victoria. Being there I saw the massive work that you did and how you handled those crises with your trademark fairness and respect—bringing people together. The Greens, this parliament, our country, our planet is in better shape because of your contribution bringing all of those wonderful characteristics to this place. I really want to thank you for it. It's going to be terrific for you, for Lucy, for Ben and for Luca to be able to spend more time together. Good luck with everything that you do from here on.

6:22 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The first time I went surfing with Richard at Bells Beach he lent me a surfboard. I remember we paddled out and it was actually a pretty big day. Bells is a bit like a giant football field. You've got to paddle out about 100 meters to get out to where you catch a wave. I remember we were about three-quarters of the way out and this giant set of waves started appearing on the horizon. I didn't known if Richard could surf. I remember seeing him scrape over this giant wave, trying to get over it as quickly as possible. I thought, 'Right oh, I'm in the right spot here,' so I turned my board around and I paddled really hard. I remember dropping down the face of this giant wave and just out of the corner of my eye I spotted this blurred motion. I thought, 'Crikey, here goes. I'm going to kill someone,' because I just dropped in on someone else's wave. As it turned out, I didn't hit this person, but I don't know how I didn't. When I popped up I got thrown around for a couple of minutes and paddled out the back and it was Richard. He wasn't scraping over the wave. He had turned around in a better spot than me and had taken off, and I'd nearly committed a homicide of my fellow party room member.

That is quite symbolic for me because the day Richard started as leader I gave him my favourite picture of a surfer on a wave and it was Bells Beach. I think it was one of the biggest waves ever recorded at Bells Beach. I said, 'Here, mate, you keep this. Stick it on your desk and every time you feel like this job is overwhelming you just have a look at that wave and have a think about what's going through that surfer's mind.' I know there are lot of parallels: just stay in front of that white water, stay on the face, go really fast and make sure it doesn't catch up to you.

Mate, I know it's been a really tough few years. I would say this has probably been the most turbulent period in our nation's parliament, and you've had your hand on the rudder for our party in some really, really big storms, and you got us through those rough years. Thank you for talking about some of the things in the Senate today, mate. It's been a pleasure working with you. We've achieved a lot. I think Sarah's point is a really important one. Sometimes we do have to focus on that mixture between pragmatism and politics and get outcomes. I'm looking forward to surfing a lot more with you at Bells Beach and spending more time with you on the farm. I hope you bring your kids and Lucy down to Tassie. I'm sure our friendship is going to endure for some time to come. All the best, mate.

6:25 pm

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

I would like to say something very, very briefly. Richard was a good bloke—is a good bloke.

An honourable senator: He's not dead!

No, but he is leaving this place. I didn't always like some of Richard's ideas, but I did really like the precision and the passion with which he delivered those ideas in this chamber. Life in here is a blur. It's hard to remember all the things that go on. People talked about the Senate sleepover. I was in the back rooms. People in this place may well remember Nick Xenophon wearing his pyjamas into the chamber; that might strike as one of those things that you remember. I wasn't here, but I was the person who did the very, very late-night run to Kmart to get the pyjamas from Belconnen at about two o'clock in the morning. So there are things that you remember in this place. One of the things I'm going to remember is the day that Richard was asked to leave the chamber—I say that, noting that it has been mentioned by a few other people. I say that very respectfully. I like a bit of public interest trouble being caused, and I will remember that. Good luck, and I wish you the best.

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

That concludes the valedictory. Thank you, everyone, for your contribution.