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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 3242

Senator CROSSIN (Northern Territory) (17:00): In June 15 years ago, I stood in this chamber and gave my first speech. I have checked today to make sure that Senator Vanstone is not about! So, hopefully, I will get this one finished! Back then, I was stopped at the 20-minute mark exactly. You might recall that, Senator Faulkner. History will show how that was resolved. I also got a note passed me in those fleeting seconds, which seemed like hours, from former senator Stott Despoja. It said, 'You've pissed off Amanda. You're my hero.' It helped me come to the realisation that colleagues in this place do not always come from your own party, and so started my journey in this place.

I am the first woman to be elected to the federal parliament from the Northern Territory and the first woman to be elected to the Senate from the Northern Territory. In my first speech, I was the first person to speak in Indigenous language in this chamber. Now, as of last November, I am the longest-serving senator from the Northern Territory. So, Nige, you might get to beat my record after all, mate!

I have sat in this chamber, in these seats, for 873 days out of the last 15 years, so far. I have attended at least 2,470 divisions and I have spent in excess of—wait for it—3,500 hours of my life with Qantas, flying to and from sittings here. Sometimes, I thought I saw more Qantas stewards than my own family. Being elected to the federal parliament is an amazing experience. Coming into the Senate provides you with a unique opportunity to be part of one of the best democracies in the world.

I am here, of course, to say thanks to the Labor Party members of the Territory, who have supported me five times during the pre-selection process over those years. I will talk about the sixth time in a few minutes. I want to thank the voters in the Territory for having the confidence in my ability to represent them here in Canberra. I hope Hansard are recording this infamous cough, by the way!

Let me start by thanking my husband, Mark. He is my best friend, a great support and a solid rock. Leaving you at home with four children—the youngest was two at the time—was a big ask. Your work and guidance, at times pretty critical, was welcomed. The challenges that we faced together during this time were invaluable. To Paul, my eldest, thank God I taught you to cook. There is no time to tell the spaghetti story here tonight, but thanks for helping out. Thanks for being there in many different ways during those years and being a good support. Mel grew from a teenager to a forthright, confident, professional young woman. Mandy, a great campaigner and political strategist, is now a competent union official. She declared, 20 minutes after the polls closed in 2007, 'It's a Rudd-slide.' That was the banner that was used in the local newspaper the next day. Miss Kate was only two years old when I first stood here in this chamber and rode Teletubbie scooters outside the President's office and slid around on polished wooden floors at the opening of parliament. She wondered at how we counted a division, when everybody in here has eyes and noses. Annabel Crabbonce described her as a 'serious insect'. You are a confident and smart young women who now has the world at her feet.

So, during this time we have had two weddings and four wonderful grandchildren. Mr Lachlan Simpson thought I had the coolest office in the world, because it was underground, so I must obviously work with Batman. Ms Jade Simpson loved all the moons hanging from the roof—of course, those are the clocks. Mr Seth Reed is my champion, and now there is little Kobe—who is here today—at only 11 weeks old. My sons-in-law, Ben and Greg, who do not care about politics at all, quite frankly, sat around our table each week just putting up with it. To my sister, Ann, and my brother-in-law, Peter: wow, thanks for being here today. What a surprise. Thanks for your support.

To my mum, finally: hi, Mum! I am going to wave to you. Through all those years you have watched question time and you have said to me, 'How come you never get to wave to me?' This is my big chance. Thanks for your collection of Amanda Vanstone comics, the articles you sent me about her and the political discussions we have had over the years. To my unbelievably supportive friends, my kitchen cabinet: Sue Murphy, Gillian Harrison and Anne Lindhe. I cannot find the words to thank you enough.

To my comrades in the trade union movement, especially in the NTEU, where I learnt so many of my skills to do this job: thank you so much. To my colleagues in the Senate—Kim, Claire, Gavin, Carol, Doug, Ursula and both Annes—and those in the other place—Anthony Albanese, Simon Crean, Robert McClelland and Kevin Rudd—thanks for your guidance and support. To those of you from other political parties across this chamber, thanks for your friendship and especially your support in the last few months.

My staff over the years included Cate Lynch; Peter Carmichael; Chris Hallet, who is here today; John Prior; Lesley, who is also here; Kimberley; and Mathew Bock is here—what a champion. Golden Noble-Harris is here as well, as are many others. Thanks for your work and advice. It seems so quick to say, 'Thank you,' but your work was always appreciated.

My thanks to Carla and Amanda for many years of supportive work with joyful team spirit, from pushing planes to dealing with donkeys at polling booths and endless weeks of mobile polling. My very special acknowledgement goes to Alison for being not just my right-hand person but the person that my family life relied on so much. We have worked together for 23 years, not 15. How can I ever repay you for what you have done, for being there, for your wisdom and your guidance anytime—two o'clock in the afternoon, 10 o'clock at night and all the time? Thanks to Rosemary Brissendon—who I hope is listening and I know that Michael is here—for your friendship and for housing me for years, and to the Murphys for the roof over my head.

To the Clerks of the Senate, Dr Laing, Harry Evans, Cleaver Elliott, our dear friend Anne Lynch and the many other Senate staff—what an outstanding operation. To my Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs team, how lucky was I to get to chair such an intelligent, professional group of people to work with. Thank you for absolutely everything that you have done. To all the other committee staff I have come to know and have worked with—even those who have retired, John Carter and Peter Hallahan—thank you so much. To the chamber staff, you make life in here seamless and easy: thank you. To Hansard, Broadcasting, Parliamentary Services, men and women in the security office, the Parliamentary Education Office—too many to name each and every one of you, but all highly skilled and providing a first-class service. The Parliamentary Library, the best collection of this country's smartest minds—and I do not mean just the books but the people in it. Your knowledge and ability to assist in this place is a great asset and should always be well funded and independent.

To everyone in Comcar, you are truly our best mates, ever reliable and friendly. Thank you for caring about us personally; some weeks you are the only ones who do. To Tim and previously Kate in the dining room, thanks for looking after my guests and me over the years. Finally, to Dom and the team in Aussies, this might be the one very year, after 15 years, that I get to collect on our bet—he is a Carlton supporter and I am Essendon. I will not be there to see the sad look on his little Carlton face to take his $50 this year; he had better post it to me!

I clearly remember my first speech: 19 May this year marks 15 years since senior traditional owner Yvonne Margarula was arrested on her land for trespass, her own country at Jabiluka. It is now time to return this parcel of land to the World Heritage Park and amend the mining lease. This would be the true meaning of Closing the Gap and recognising that the mining world respects the wishes of these traditional owners and will leave that land alone for all time.

To my constituents in Katherine, you experienced one of the worst floods in recent times back in 1998 and again just a few years ago. I admire your resilience and sense of community that continues in the face of adversity. I will desperately miss the wonderful communities of Christmas Island and Cocos Islands. I recognise the representatives from Christmas Island here today. I know I have made lifelong friends in these places. I have sat on the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories for 15 years, and I have proudly represented your issues here in Canberra; protecting booby birds, red migrating crabs and robber crabs, to recognising the unique and difficult circumstances of having the country's most intimidating detention centre on your soil. While your communities share a friendship and acceptance for one another, you deserve much more support for the complex issues that continue on your beautiful home and wonderful tourist destination.

Cocos Islands need a permanent recreation centre and a decent cyclone shelter now that these islands house so many people asking for refuge. On Christmas Island there are many volunteers who are yet to receive the recognition from this country that they deserve for the role they played on that tragic days two years ago.

I have co-authored a book on the stolen generations to be used during the 2000 Olympics. As you know, I continue to lobby for compensation for members of the NT stolen generation. If we can find $21 million to fund the movie 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, surely—what more can I say? It leaves me speechless. I have supported the NT Working Women's Centre and recently gained four years funding for its operation.

In estimates nearly nine years ago I asked rather naively: how many people in this country have trachoma? The answer was: we do not know. This led to another long story. Finally, in 2009, thanks to you, Kevin, $17 million for the eradication of trachoma. I am thrilled to see that further funding for this important program was provided in the budget this year. The titles of five heritage houses at Myilly Point are now under the National Trust. I have campaigned against the abolition of bilingual education and mandatory sentencing. I have managed to get a community consultative committee established with the increased presence of refugees being detained in Darwin, and I have secured a Northern Territory representative on Minister for Immigration and Citizenship's advisory committees.

But my memories of this place go back to being an active member of the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, lobbying for improvements in the reproductive rights of women, being actively involved in stem cell research legislation and access to RU486. Former senator Webber is here and will remember that well. I remember establishing the asthma parliamentary support group and lobbying for the building of the childcare centre in Parliament House—and it is here. Loads and loads of stories about that journey, but the excuse that the division bells would wake the babies really got me going that day. There was getting the Opposition Whip their own entrance—so, Senator Bushby, you can thank me for your own door.

The work in the Senate committees I truly enjoyed and I will fondly remember questions on Indigenous hearing and sight, fighting Senator Carr for just one hour for Indigenous education in estimates, the rights of donor conceived people and the endless matters relating to migration law and refugees. It would seem from the selection of committee reports today that that has not quite stopped yet.

Four years ago I initiated the review of the Sex Discrimination Act which led to some major amendments to this legislation. I initiated and tabled the Marriage Equality Bill in the Senate last year. As a country, we need to step up to the plate and recognise that people love each regardless of the sex of their partner and they want to be with that person for the rest of their life. So, let's get over it and let's just do it. Last December I was appointed chair of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition for Indigenous People. The highlights of my time include: being part of the ALP gaining government in the Northern Territory in 2001 and, of course, winning the federal election in 2007; meeting Barack Obama; representing this parliament overseas; visiting the Antarctic; and chairing the Indonesian Parliamentary Friendship Group.

The Labor Party was formed 120 years ago to improve the lives of ordinary workers, to build this nation and to give us a fair share in a growing economy. Our platform talks about opportunity, responsibility and fairness. We have always been the champions of change but were always the defenders of rank and file involvement in developing our policies and choosing who will represent us at all levels of government.

I cannot give my valedictory speech and not mention the final steps in my journey. Do we need more women in parliament? Of course we do, but not at the expense of each other. Do we need Indigenous representation? Most certainly we do, but not in a vacuum without a plan or without a strategy. Just because one person says it must be so does not make it right or democratic. The review of the 2010 federal election recommended that intervention in party preselection by the national executive should only occur as a last resort, rather than as a first resort, and only in exceptional circumstances. There are many wonderful Indigenous members of the party in the Northern Territory who have now been denied the chance to replace me. This is grossly unfair. It is undemocratic and it is not the Labor way.

To those members of the national executive and those who are sitting right now in this chamber, I hope you have thought long and hard about what the party will do in the future to make sure that this is not unique and that this is not a one-off pick. What is lacking is an effective and active Indigenous network. We need to see that engagement through fair and democratic processes are now driven by you and those at the national level. The party must learn from this and must look to the future and engage with Indigenous members of the party seriously and genuinely to make systemic changes. In the aftermath of this preselection intervention, the Northern Territory branch should be given a seat at the national executive, because we are currently not at that table. The members of the party in the Northern Territory deserve at least some recognition for the way the branch has been treated, and the party should now commit to ensuring that all states and territories are part of this peak decision-making body.

Finally I must say something about the worst day of my Senate career, which in fact was not in January this year but the announcement of the Northern Territory intervention. To move into people's lives and communities in this way left me speechless and helpless. The people that I had lived and worked with were humiliated and shamed. They were left to wonder why and how it had come to this. Then, when we won government, they lobbied me continually to make changes faster than we did and to recognise that support and assistance was needed. The final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody says:

If there is one lesson we can learn from history, it is that solutions imposed from the outside will only create their own problems.

Isn't that so? Just have a look at the last five years.

The issue of giving back to Aboriginal people the power to control their own lives is therefore central to any strategies which are designed to address these underlying issues.

Warren Mundine is right in his view that commercial development and economic solutions are the only chance for Indigenous communities to escape poverty. The rights based agenda does need to be set aside and government engagement officers replaced with strategic economists and business developers; incentives need to be given to businesses to get out into remote communities and set up there; the land rights act needs to be reviewed and modernised. It is time to stop treating Indigenous affairs from a welfare point of view and grow and develop the industries that they are competent in.

Finally I want to pay my respects to Dr Yunupingu and his family. We taught together at Yirrkala and shared many moments. I hope to have more to say about that next week. I offer my deepest sympathies to Gurruwun, his wife, and those who are mourning his loss.

Let me finish by saying in Gumatj: Gumatjkurru wangakurru Gumatj. Bitjan ngarra yurru buku-gurrpan Yolngu-yulngunha. Now I would like to thank the Yolngu people: Bili walala mirrithirri gunga'yun ga marnggigurrupar ngarranha—because they have really helped me and taught me. Ngathili ngarra ganangumirringu—because when I got there I was full of my own white culture. Dhiyangu bala lundumirri—now I have plenty of Yolngu friends. Bilina. That is all I want to say. Let me leave by saying to you all—and Nige will get this: Nah, you mob, Djut Djutna.