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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 1428

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (16:11): by leave—I congratulate Senator Arbib for a great speech and it does great justice to his time in the Senate and to his passions. I have worked with Mark since he came into the Senate. While I am terribly regretful that he is leaving, I understand very much his reasons. He has made an enormous contribution to the parliament and to the government in his various portfolios. I think his speech today highlighted the issues that have motivated him.

What we should take from today's contribution from Mark is that it actually challenges the public persona that many in the media try to create about Mark Arbib. The speech today reinforced the fact—and all his colleagues understand—of his great passion for issues, his great passion for Indigenous people, for those with disability and for the homeless. His commitment to those issues and those people has been profound, and he has worked away at trying to make the conditions for those people, for whom he has had some responsibility, better. He has done that in a very dedicated and passionate way. That is a side of him that is not broadly understood and, unfortunately, not represented well in some of the public commentary. His commitment to programs like KickStart, which saw many apprentices helped during the global financial crisis and his commitment, which he talked about, to the Learn Earn Legend! program for Indigenous young people have been exemplary, and he has made a huge contribution to the Labor Party.

I also note his long service as assistant general secretary and general secretary of the New South Wales Labor Party. There is much commentary in the press that somehow seeks to denigrate the role of party officials. Party officials from all parties play an important role in our democracy these days. Parties are a central part of the way our democracy operates and the officials are important to that process. I know Mark was an outstanding general secretary of the New South Wales branch and made a huge contribution in his period there as well to the success of our party and the New South Wales branch in particular.

I would also like to acknowledge the fact that he has provided strong leadership on social issues inside the Labor Party. Despite his association with a rather conservative wing of the Labor Party, he has shown really strong leadership in a way that has often surprised people on issues such as gay marriage. In a whole range of ways his talk about work and family balance has been a key defining element of his engagement in politics. I pay great respect to him for the constancy of that contribution. I think Mark has suffered from the fact that the public portrayal of him—the public characterisation of him—actually bears no resembles to the real man. As I said, his speech today told you a lot more about Mark Arbib than much of what you will read in the papers. His thoughtfulness and his measured and persistent pursuit of Labor policy—of good public policy—has been a real mark of him and a real mark of his time here.

As he referred to, I know that there has been some commentary about why he resigned. All I can say is that the comments Mark made on his retirement reflect conversations I have had with him over the last two or three years. They reflect the fact that he was feeling the stress of balancing work and family. His commitment to his family was paramount in his mind, and he was under the same pressures that we all suffer about balancing those two commitments. I have also always known him to put the interests of the Labor Party first in the way that he engages inside the party. I think that his decision to resign reflects those two priorities: those of his family and what he sees as the best interests of the party.

While I did not agree with his decision, that is partly motivated by self-interest: Mark was an important member of our team and someone I did not want to lose. We had plans for him to play a leading role for the Labor Party in the Senate for many years to come. But I understand the reasons for his decision, and accept them.

Can I just say, though, that this is not an obituary! Mark is actually a young man, and probably the time to leave the Senate is when you are young enough to have another career—some of us run out of options as we age! Mark has many options because he has many abilities and many interests, and I am sure that he will succeed in whatever he does following his time in the Senate, although I am not sure that I can approve of running marathons as being one of his priorities. I just do not get that, I am afraid. No-one has accused me of showing any interest in running marathons! But I wish him well in that endeavour as well.

Finally, as Senator Fierravanti-Wells and others have pointed out, the suggestion that Mark Arbib is a faceless man is, of course, a nonsense. But he does have an alias: his close friends call him Freddie because, of course, he was a star of Home and Away, and his character was Freddie. Someone showed me the footage today, it is on YouTube—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: Here it is!

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Yes! I actually watched the whole scene; the hand movements—the guy was a natural! And I just do not understand why he did not get a call from Hollywood! Why did it not develop for him? Method acting was clearly his calling. But when that career did not take off I am happy to say that he chose a career in politics.

I know that others want to speak, and that we are short of time, so I say to Mark: thank you very much for your contribution. If I had known that it was going to have this impact I would not have supported you becoming Manager of Government Business. I thought that it was a good decision at the time, but the fact that it drove you over the edge is a regret of mine. But best of luck for the future from all your colleagues. We have appreciated your contribution, and we look forward to watching whatever you do in the future with great admiration. All the best.