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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3586

Senator CAROL BROWN (6:03 PM) —I would like to make a few remarks about the three retiring ALP senators; however, before I do I would like to offer my best wishes to all of the retiring senators. Not only is the Senate losing a great deal of experience but many of us are losing the ability to have sage advice at hand, and in some cases we are losing our buddies. I thank them for their work and for their contribution and I offer my best wishes to them.

I would like to particularly mention my Tasmanian colleague Liberal Senator John Watson. John is retiring after three decades of service to the Senate and to Tasmania. He has received from his coalition colleagues and from other senators in this place many accolades and due recognition for his long and valuable contribution to the parliament, and of course to his Tasmanian constituency, and I would like to add my remarks to theirs. John commenced his Senate service on 1 July 1978. Whilst I have only personally worked with Senator Watson in this place since late 2005, most particularly on the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration, it has been a pleasure to work with ‘Watto’, as he is affectionately known around the Senate. He is known for his dedication and dogged determination to raise issues of particular interest. As you would expect from Senator Watson, he has taken the time to write to his fellow Tasmanians—all of them, I believe! He wrote to thank them for giving him the opportunity to serve them and to bid them farewell. I have my copy of your letter, John! But I do believe that your photo on the letterhead is probably 30 years old as well. I suppose we are all a bit guilty of using the most flattering photos. I know your services will be in great demand back home. Thank you, John, and best wishes for the future.

I now return to the three retiring ALP senators. I would like to take this opportunity to make a few departing remarks about my fellow Labor colleague Senator Linda Kirk. Senator Kirk’s departure comes as a great loss to those on this side of the chamber—indeed, to the parliament as a whole. It is such a pleasure to serve in this chamber with people such as Linda. Linda is a woman of principle who has truly used her time here in the Senate to champion a number of significant causes in various roles, not least of which was her role as convenor of Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse, a position which has revealed Linda’s strength of character in what is a deeply emotional and difficult but extremely important area. It is extremely important work, as the Australian statistics are shocking. Nearly 60,000 children are believed to be at risk each and every year. Linda raised with the Senate the extent of the child abuse problem on a national and global level and, importantly, raised what we could do about it. The issue of child abuse is a national concern, and the government is providing national leadership on what is our most serious national priority. Linda, along with the other female senators who are leaving this chamber, has done an excellent job in promoting the role of women in the Australian parliament and in aiding the health of our great democracy.

Now I turn to Senator George Campbell. I take the opportunity to indicate to the chamber that I knew of George Campbell prior to him becoming a senator. If you were a member of the Australian Labor Party, or if indeed you read a national newspaper, you could not help but know who George Campbell was. During my brief time in this place I have been lucky enough to get to know George Campbell not only as a parliamentary colleague but also as a friend. Many a fond memory has been kindled over a takeaway and a hearty joke, and there was probably a lot of rewriting of history in the Opposition Whip’s office with George and others, with Senator Campbell, as you would expect, taking centre stage. Not one afraid of speaking his mind, the man I have got to know during my time here is indeed a man of the highest order, a man of great conviction, loyalty and respect.

There are few who have advocated the great Labor ideals of equality and a fair go for all as passionately as Senator George Campbell. Indeed, since migrating to Australia in 1965, Senator Campbell has worked tirelessly to protect and promote the rights of Australian workers and their families, first through his long and successful involvement in the trade union movement and then of course as a senator for New South Wales. It seems fitting that his departure from the Senate corresponds with the end of Work Choices and the election of a Labor government with a clear mandate to reintroduce fairness to the Australian workplace. During his time in this place, Senator Campbell has served both the Australian public and the Labor Party extremely well, serving on various committees and acting as Opposition Whip. It was, however, a position which, as we heard in George’s valedictory speech last week, he considered somewhat cursed. Indeed, one of my most vivid memories of Senator Campbell is of him in his role as Opposition Whip after I missed my first division. Looking back on it now the scene seems highly amusing, but it certainly was not at the time. George’s face went from red to scarlet, eventually settling on blue; I, of course, was white. I did not miss another division—well, actually, I did miss another division—and I do not recommend it to any of the new senators, unless of course they are voting against the ALP position, when they are welcome to do it.

In summary, I wish to acknowledge the great contribution that Senator Campbell has made in passionately advocating for New South Wales and protecting the rights of Australian workers in this place. He has done so with the greatest dedication, honesty and conviction. His presence here, particularly during question time, will be dearly missed.

The most difficult part of my contribution here tonight is to say farewell to my friend Senator Ruth Webber, senator for Western Australia. It is indeed sad that Senator Webber will no longer be with us in the Senate. I have spent a considerable amount of time over the last couple of days thinking about exactly what I could say as a fitting tribute to Senator Webber here tonight, and it seems, as is always the case on such significant occasions, the words just will not come out right. So let me start by saying that, first and foremost, it has been an absolute pleasure serving with Ruth during my short time in this place. It does not take anyone who has met Ruth long to figure out that she is a woman with great strength of character. She is wise, intelligent and above all committed. Ruth is loyal to her friends, her party and her ideals. She is always prepared to put in the hard yards supporting party members, candidates and colleagues, particularly when times get tough.

Senator Webber is a wise counsel when one needs advice. In a testament to her strength of character, during her time here Ruth has proven that she is not afraid to take on difficult tasks or deal with complex issues. Indeed, Ruth has not shied away from issues and, when not initiating discussion, she has certainly been an active supporter of various controversial and complex pieces of legislation. As we all know, it is not easy to be successful when legislation divides caucuses; it is extremely difficult. But the mark of this woman is that she has been involved in the successful passage of several monumental pieces of policy, including RU486 and stem cell legislation. The work and the hours Ruth put in on the stem cell legislation, along with Senators Stott Despoja and Patterson and other senators, was fundamental to seeing the legislation passed, an experience that was quite exhausting and stressful. However, having said that, Ruth has always been determined that matters such as these are, as much as possible, debated and conducted with respect and that people are allowed to put their views.

I can tell you what Ruth is not: Ruth is not a hands-off politician. She is not afraid to speak her mind, as many around the chamber can attest. And I can tell you what Ruth is: Ruth is passionate about the Labor Party; Ruth is passionate about the proactive and positive role for women in our democracy. Ruth does not just talk the talk; she walks the walk when it comes to supporting her colleagues. Ruth has provided me encouragement, support and occasionally a not-so-gentle push, all of which I am grateful for. Politics presents us with many challenges and opportunities, and I have been honoured to have worked alongside Senator Ruth Webber. I know that we will continue our friendship outside this place but I will miss Ruth being here all the same.