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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 1724


Senator GRIMES —by leave-For the first time in about 12 years I am quite nervous, actually. Despite what Senator Janine Haines has said, I am not going to make an address, honourable senators will all be very grateful to know. It is with considerable regret that I leave my association with the Senate now-not only with the chamber and honourable senators but also with the staff here, the staff of the Parliament, the people who have driven me around, the people who have helped feed me and pour me drinks, the people who have assisted me in the Library and, in particular, the people from Hansard who convert my Joh-like sentences into readable English. To the people who have been working on my staff, both here and in Launceston, under considerable difficulties-many more than are suggested by Senator John Coates's kind words,- I am extremely grateful. I am most grateful also to Helen, my spouse, who, like all parliamentary spouses, has to put up with more than a human being should have to put up with. I regret the decision that I have to go but do not regret making it-if that Irishism is understood by everybody. A decision had to be made and I think it important that everyone should make such a decision at the right time.

Briefly, during my period in the Parliament we have been wrestling with the role of the Senate. We have been at that task since, I believe, the 1960s and the 1950s, when the Senate took a much more prominent role than it had in the past. We have been trying to resolve the conflict between wanting to be a House of review and having the powers and practices of a lower House. I think everyone here knows that in my view we cannot resolve those differences. But at times we have broken away from the practice of being, in fact, a House with the powers to bring down governments. And, as Senator Peter Baume has said, on committees we have often worked together in a bipartisan way. I can remember not only being with Senator Baume and Senator Brown in advocating the decriminalisation of marihuana but also that we advocated it on television, and for that were neither struck down from above nor by the electorate, which demonstrates that the electorate is much more tolerant than we give it credit for.

Also I was once on a committee where the majority view was held by Senator Chaney, Senator Missen, Senator Grimes and Senator Button, and the minority view was held by Senator Wright and Senator Everett. It produced a considerable difficulty at the time, when all of these young whippersnappers were telling Merv and Reg the right thing to do. On such occasions we have acted in a bipartisan way. On big issues-abortion, capital punishment, divorce-where there has been a bipartisan view, we have had excellent debates and have heard excellent speeches. There have been some excellent individual speeches-Senator Sir John Carrick on capital punishment; Senator George Georges on being in Bogga Road Gaol-but unfortunately because we are a party House, because we have the capacity to act as a lower House in that we have Ministers here and so on, such occasions are only too rare. In practice, what we have to do is get on with the business of government, get on with legislation. With, as I have said before, more senators speaking more often and at greater length, there just are not a sufficient number of hours available to act in the way that I think we should act. I hope that people in the future will continue to consider how to turn this place into a proper House of review; how to have more big debates on the more sensitive issues; how to get away from the bipartisan wrangling that we spend most of our time on in this place.

In speeches made outside of this chamber I have frequently made reference to what I considered was the necessity for us as politicians, and the community as a whole, to develop a more loving and caring society. One does not often say things like that in this place because the level of cynicism is such that one is likely to be howled down. It is considered fairly old-fashioned to talk about a loving and caring society. In fact, it is fashionable to suggest that we no longer have that sort of society; that it is impossible to develop and improve society in that direction. I believe very firmly that that is not true. In times of national tragedy we see how members of society are willing to work together to use their skills, their capacities, to help one another, to help individuals who are in difficulty. If I can give an example which now occurs every day, in Sydney and in Melbourne particularly: We have groups which, working under extreme difficulties, are showing a loving and caring attitude to those unfortunate people who are dying of AIDS-the people that we talked about this morning. Not only members of the gay community but also relatives and friends-heterosexual friends-are working day and night, caring for people under very difficult circumstances. In so doing they are saving the taxpayers' money. They are also giving us years of breathing space, as policy-makers, in which to develop a sensible public policy for looking after those people. It is one that we will have to develop and, as Senator Puplick pointed out this morning, it is going to cost money and considerable public effort.

We have around us examples like that all of the time, examples of what society can be like. One of the roles of this Parliament, this Government and of us in Parliament and in government must be, I believe, to develop the capacity in society. Too often in times of economic difficulty, I believe, we adopt a bunker mentality. We go back into the trenches. We say that we have to shut everything down; we have to close up shop. We forget that at the other end of these economic difficulties things will be better and that we ought to prepare society for those better times. We should not just forget everything else in times of economic difficulty. Don Dunstan always used to quote the case of Israel: In the 1967 war, when the country looked like going under, the Israeli Government went ahead and bought new instruments for the Tel Aviv Symphony Orchestra because things were going to happen after that war was over. There is a danger, on both sides of this place, in present circumstances, of wanting to shut down the shop and forget everything. If I may give what may be considered a minor example, then shut up and sit down, Senator Michael Baume and his colleagues on the other side-I will not be party political about this; I will give someone on our side a mention too-set up a Waste Watch Committee. I thought: `That is a good idea. I wish to heaven Walshie and I had thought of that when we were in Opposition; we would have had great fun sitting here, listing all that wasteful government expenditure'. I have been a bit disappointed in the Waste Watch Committee because, after looking at our Budget of some $72 billion, the worst example of waste it could come up with was the granting of $11,000 to some group or individual on the north coast of New South Wales. If someone had given me a bottle of wine, a pencil and a piece of paper, I could have given the Senate about 45 better examples of good or bad government expenditure.

I know that that item of expenditure was chosen because it went to women; it was given by the Office of the Status of Women and the lady who received the money had a funny-sounding name. It costs more than $11,000, for heaven's sake, to run this place for one day. The reaction of the Government-my colleague, Senator Peter Walsh, I believe agrees with Senator Michael Baume in this area-has been to set up a committee of senior Ministers to look at every grant that is to be given out in future. That, I believe, is mad, as I believe it is mad to go round suggesting that we should not be spending money on things like that, on research into what has happened in our history, or innovative things such as building surfboards for women, if one likes. There are many things in this society, in times of difficulty, that I would rather cut down expenditure on than innovative things such as that. The Committee's assertion resulted in the Press of this country spending an inordinate amount of time and money sending planes up to the north coast of New South Wales to fly the individual down, to have opposing her on television Ray Martin, the most experienced and distinguished television commentator in this country, and Michael Baume, a distinguished economist and long-time television performer. It merely demonstrated that on television the woman was nervous, not as good a performer as the other two. If one reads the transcript of that program one finds that nothing was said about the merits of what she was doing or what that expenditure was for. It may be a trite and small case to cite but it was the most significant the Committee could come up with concerning wastage of public money-out of a Budget of $72 billion! If that is the worst case that can be cited, I think the Government is doing pretty well.

We have to get away from the practice, when things are tough, of battening down the hatches and resolving to do nothing innovative. We have to get away from the conviction that the only way to solve the economic or other problems of this country is to bring everything to a standstill and wait for the resources boom or something else to get us out at the other end. We have to take a long term view. We may be mere passers-by in the history of this country but we have a duty, I believe, to consider ourselves as part of a continuum, to remember that there is a future as well as a past and a present.

Having done what I have so often done in this place-waffled round the world and made some philosophical contributions that may not add up when I read them later-I want to thank all honourable senators for the company that I have enjoyed. I want to thank my colleague, Senator John Button, for announcing a job that I have not yet been given. I do not know what embarrassment that may cause. If I do get an appointment to somewhere like the Hague, honourable senators will be welcome to come, but I ask them for heaven's sake not to all come at once. There will be a cupboard there I suppose and I will manage to give honourable senators a drink but I ask them to pick up a bottle of duty free on the way.

This chamber performs an important role but we have to continue to look at that role and the methods by which it is discharged. I hope that senators will continue to do that as those of us who came here in 1974 have continued to do. I thank all honourable senators for their kind words. I wish them all well in the future. Friends, comrades, sisters and brothers, you play an important part in the present and the future of this country no matter how much you may be criticised, no matter how much you may be pilloried, no matter how much you may be the butt of the jokes of the media and those who consider themselves superior to politicians, who are willing to put themselves up for election and win or be defeated. I ask honourable senators, no matter how much they may suffer from in that way, to remember that we are a democracy and should stay one; that we will do so only if those who take part in the democratic process are convinced, as I am, that it is the best system.

I think the people that I have worked with here are a credit to that system. I am only sorry that I will not be here any longer than today. Senator Shirley Walters can relax; I am not going to change my mind. I will miss Senator Walters and she will miss me. I know that she is casting around for someone else with whom to do battle. The relationship between Senator Walters and me has at least enlivened this place at times. It may have caused her some anguish and me also. I apologise for any of the rude things that I may have said about her or anyone else. I know that she did not mean the things that she said about me! I will miss everybody here, including my friend Senator Shirley Walters. I make the assumption that anyone who is in the Senate is here because he or she wants to improve society, to make it the more loving and caring society that I believe it should be. I know that they will continue to do that-probably even more efficiently in my absence. I thank the Senate.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Grimes, I am sure that I speak on behalf of all honourable senators who have not spoken, including Senator Walters, when I wish you good health and good luck in the future.

Sitting suspended from 1.44 to 2 p.m.