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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1475

Senator BARTLETT (12:54 PM) —I would like to associate myself and the Democrats with the comments that have just been made by Senator Evans and Senator Minchin. Others are far better placed than I am to talk about Senator Ray’s contribution to the ALP, although undoubtedly it was a major one, not only in Victoria but also nationally. I want to particularly note his contribution to the institution of the Senate, not just in his role as a government minister or as an opposition frontbencher and backbencher but to the Senate itself. He will be a huge loss to the Senate as a chamber and his departure is a huge loss of corporate knowledge for the Senate as a chamber.

It is worth noting in that context that not only have we lost Senator Ray and will be losing Senator Watson but we will also be losing a huge number of people in the near future. We lost quite a large number at the last changeover, in July 2005, and quite a number in between. From my quick calculations, from the end of June 2005 to the start of July this year—a period of three years—half the Senate will have changed over. There is the unique instance of Senator Jacinta Collins, whom I welcome back to the chamber; she is the only one returning. We have had a changeover of basically half the Senate in the space of three years. An enormous amount of corporate knowledge will be lost—some of it deeper than others, I readily admit, but it is quite a lot over a long period of time.

In that intervening three years we had a period that was unusual, where the government of the day controlled the Senate. A loss of corporate knowledge of what things were like prior to that period could be problematic. If there was anyone who had corporate knowledge in enormous amounts it was Senator Ray—with the possible exception of Senator Faulkner, who we do still have here for the time being. I think that wider point needs to be made. We saw that repeatedly, particularly in debates about procedure and proposals with regard to sitting hours, committee inquiries or make-up or length of time to report—all of those sorts of issues. You would get the usual convenient spin of the day from the government minister and sometimes also from the opposition spokesperson, putting the political points. Senator Ray invariably would come in and cut straight to the chase and talk about the simple facts of the history of the matter. He would be quite open in acknowledging, where it was relevant, any failings or the short-term political advantage that his own side perhaps sought to gain at particular times. He would simply tell it like it was. That is important.

I think I have read that it was said about Senator Ray—and it certainly sounds accurate to me—that he was somebody who, if he was going to use the strength of numbers to shaft you, would not put a lot of pretty justifications around it. He would simply say, ‘We’ve got it and we’re going to do it and that is that.’ Putting things as they are, without trying to put a veneer of spin and rubbish over the top, is a very valuable attribute, not just because it saves a lot of us a lot of frustration and a lot of time, frankly, but also because it means that you are making decisions on the basis of a much more honest and intellectually robust set of facts. That is something that we need to strive for much more often than we do.

I saw a quote from Senator Ray in the last week or so, in one of those pieces where his retirement was announced, where he spoke about the fact that he was quite a strong supporter of the notion of adversarial politics. He said that, even though it could occasionally be quite brutal, it was a far better way of getting results from your political system. I am not totally convinced about that, but I do think he was a good example of how, even though adversarial politics is often portrayed in a negative way, you could be a practitioner of adversarial politics without being a liar and without being a perpetually offensive, obnoxious person out to win through smear and that sort of thing. He could certainly be very aggressive and accusatory when he felt like it, but the comments that others of us have already made I would very much concur with. He is someone with significant integrity with regard to his word. He would be straight up and would not beat around the bush in what he was putting forward. His is a clear example that you can have an adversarial approach that is still quite honest, frank and up-front and achieves results.

In this context there was one example where he repeatedly made a number of allegations with regard to the operations of the Democrats in Victoria which, whilst I could understand why he might have had suspicions, were ill-founded, and I think it would have been much more desirable if he had not kept making those allegations. Even though I believe he was occasionally unfair in some of his accusations against other people, he nonetheless was very up-front about them and at least you could tackle the allegation head-on and put your version of the story on the record.

I think his contribution in policy areas also needs to be acknowledged. I did not necessarily agree with his policy approach in a lot of areas, particularly in defence and security areas, but he would be much more clear-cut about the reasoning behind the decisions he took. He resorted much less to just rhetorical flourish or setting up straw men or shooting the messenger; he was much more intellectually honest. In the approach he put forward he would often simply acknowledge that there was an alternative view and simply say that he did not agree with it and thought it was wrong. I think that is a much better approach than simply seeing if you can win debates by either attacking each other’s credibility or putting forward a lot of dishonest and misleading spin. So I think the general approach that he took was an honest one, particularly with regard to justifying decisions in this chamber about the use of guillotines and the like, about whether or not to send things to various committees and about trying to be fair in respect of giving meaningful participation to people across all sides in this chamber, taking into account the different size of our makeup and political support.

Frankly, he was quite often very blunt in putting forward the need for a balanced approach to question time and the structure of committees and would take an approach that was not in the short-term self-interest of his own side. The reason for that was not that he was being nice and sweet and cuddly—which I do not think is a phrase anybody would use with regard to him—but because he was thinking of the long term. He knew that any time you used the short-term advantage you had to stick it to somebody else, some time down the track the wheel would turn and you would be just as likely—more likely—to cop it back in the neck yourself if you did things that were blatantly unfair. So that long-term view of being up-front but fair about how you go about things is something that I thought was very consistent with regard to his approach.

I also want to indicate and acknowledge his contribution in the area of immigration, which is a particular area of interest of mine, and the attempt that he made, with some very major reforms to the Migration Act, to make it more transparent. Regardless of your views about desirable policy approaches to immigration, making it more transparent is something that is very important. It is unfortunate that things have degraded again so badly since that time.

As well as a significant intellect, he is also someone with a very significant sense of humour. That is also something we could do with more of in this chamber and political debate in general. My colleague Senator Stott Despoja remembers being labelled as Princess Leia in debate in this chamber—in combat with another senator known as Jabba the Hutt. Beneath that reputation of a ferocious hard man—from all reports quite a deserved reputation—there was nonetheless a real humanness and I think that side of things needs to be brought out and acknowledged as well.

I pay tribute to the solid work and the very strong legacy of Senator Ray. Serving a long time in this chamber does not necessarily equate to making a strong contribution in this chamber. Without being churlish, I could think of others who have served for very long periods of time but whose contributions, frankly, have not been particularly noteworthy. Senator Ray certainly stands out as one of those whose contribution is a very significant one—a historically significant one from the context of the Senate itself, over and above whatever his contribution may have been both as a minister and within the Labor Party. Others are more qualified than I to comment on this.