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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 1440

Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (17:04): I associate myself with all those positive comments, in particular those on two issues of great importance: homelessness and sport. It is not about how long you are in this place; it is about whether you leave your footprint, and Mark has done that.

I now ask leave to incorporate a speech on behalf of Senator Feeney.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

Like all Senators on this side of the Chamber, I was surprised and saddened to learn of Senator Mark Arbib's decision to resign as a minister and to leave the Senate. Many people here to talk about putting their families first, but when the crunch comes they actually put their careers and their ambition first. Senator Arbib has decided that being a husband and father is more important than being a politician, and he deserves our respect for that choice.

Senator Arbib and I came into the Senate together in July 2008. It's hard to believe that was less than four years ago. In that time he has had a meteoric career: a parliamentary secretary in February 2009, a minister in June 2009, Assistant Treasurer last December. He is obviously a man of great ability, great energy, great commitment and great passion.

In a very short period of time, Senator Arbib has made a powerful impact on Australian politics, particularly in the policy areas he feels strongly about, such as employment, social inclusion, youth affairs and Indigenous affairs. As Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development and as Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness, he showed himself to be a politician who really cares about the people who send us—and by us I mean Senators on this side of the chamber—to Parliament: the working families of Australia.

But although Senator Arbib was only 37 when he was elected to the Senate, he had already had a substantial political career, and it's that career that I want to say something about. He was President of NSW Young Labor in 1995, when he was 24. He became a State Organiser in 1996, Assistant General Secretary in 1999 and General Secretary of the NSW ALP in 2004. He was also a member of the ALP National Executive from 2004.

In those days he was what is generally known as a "machine man". This is a species to which I myself, as a former state secretary and campaign director, also belong, and I'm proud to do so. No political party can win elections without capable organisers, state secretaries or campaign directors. That's as true for the parties opposite as it is for my party. Our former colleague Senator Nick Minchin, for example, a highly respected former state and federal director of the Liberal Party, is a political professional to his fingertips, and so is Senator Arbib.

We've seen and heard a lot of commentary about the faceless men in recent weeks, and Senator Arbib and I have figured prominently in this coverage. In relation to Senator Arbib, at any rate, much of this commentary has been singularly ill-informed. Far from being faceless, he has been one of the most prominent people in Australian politics since 2007. He has always understood that the point of party organisation is to win elections, and the point of winning elections is to put in place good Labor policy. It was thanks to the work of Senator Arbib and many others like him that Labor won government in 2007 and retained it in 2010. That's why it was so fitting that Senator Arbib as a minister was able to put in place some of the policy goals he cares so strongly about.

I greatly regret that Senator Arbib has decided to leave politics. He's been a good friend and a good colleague, and a great contributor to the work of this government. His departure is a loss to the Labor Party, to the government and to the Senate. But I don't believe for a minute that Senator Arbib's talents will be lost to Australian public life for long. At 40, he has many years of active life ahead of him to make further contributions to his country. Whatever field he chooses to devote his great abilities to, I'm sure he will excel. I wish him and Kelli and their family all the best for the future.