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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2349

Senator FAULKNER (Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Sport and Territories) (12.57 a.m.) —Mr President, when I joined the Labor Party and became a Labor Party activist, Graham Richardson was the blood enemy. Many honourable senators would know that we fight politics in the New South Wales branch of the Labor Party probably harder than in any other arena in Australian politics. By 1979 and 1980 I was personally committed to Graham Richardson's political destruction; how miserably I failed.

  When I became assistant secretary of the state branch of the party in 1980 Graham was the branch general secretary. Our personal relations were abysmal. We shared an office on the ninth floor of the Labour Council building in Sussex Street in Sydney. My office was about as far away from Graham as I sit to where the Democrats are in this chamber. We saw a lot of each other over eight months in 1980—thirty, forty times a day. We did not speak a word for eight months.

Senator Richardson —I didn't speak to Frank Walker for five years.

Senator FAULKNER —But you did not work in the same office. I have always given, and I think Graham deserves, great credit for his role in preserving the natural environment in this country, but when he was general secretary of the New South Wales ALP his pre-eminent interest was in the preservation of the power of the New South Wales Right. At a time when new residents of the inner city of Sydney were seeking to join the ALP, seeking to make it relevant to urban dwellers not connected with the old party patronage systems, in my view Graham supported the very worst elements of those old municipal machines.

  I think Senator Richardson's loyalty to some people in the ALP at that time was misplaced. I do understand and respect the fact that his loyalty was tribal, but his loyalty at times got him into some hot water. I think the left of the party was needed to play a role there, to clean out the ALP in that area and preselect a range of candidates who did have some social relevance to their local communities. As Senator Richardson has said, and I can concur, we did not often agree; in fact, for a period we never did. But while we did not agree, the honourable senator set the rules of factional warfare in New South Wales. He enforced those rules and he honoured those rules. I think we were able, to some extent, to limit areas of conflict in the party. I do not believe that Senator Richardson ever was involved in conflict for conflict's sake.

  I remember that in the 1970s and the early 1980s Senator Richardson supported a winner take all approach to Labor politics. I think he has modified and changed that view over the years. He certainly seems to have accepted the principle, and has led many others in the party to accept the principle, that those outside his grouping, his faction—the right wing—have a role to play in the party and a role to play in government. Given the diversity and nature of our party right across this nation, it is very important to give opportunities to those who have got a contribution to make, regardless of their factional allegiance. If we had not seen that sort of attitude change—to a significant degree driven by Senator Richardson—I am sure we would not have seen the long-term Labor government that we have seen here in Canberra and that we certainly saw in New South Wales.

  Senator Richardson and I have always been fierce factional opponents. Every year for the last 18 years, I think, we have locked horns at the New South Wales ALP annual conference. There were a few other players, and a few of them I notice are here in the Senate with me tonight. I will not mention any names, even that of Senator Loosley. But there have even been occasions, in the absence of any real disagreement between the factions, when we have had to contrive a set piece debate or two out of nothing at all. I think sometimes we were able to add a bit of humour, amidst a fair dose of vitriol, to these ritual engagements that occurred at the party conferences.

  I muse, as I know Senator Richardson has at times, that on some occasions we must have done it reasonably well: we fooled all the media all the time and most of the delegates all of the time, when we did not always mean what we said about each other. But we would agree that there were many occasions when we said some extraordinarily harsh things about each other and we really did mean them.

  However, I have been around this party for a long time, I have been around machine politics for a long time, and I must say that Senator Richardson is the most effective machine politician that I have ever seen. I consider that to be a pretty big rap from someone in the Australian Labor Party. When Senator Richardson came here, he did not take refuge in the obscurity of the Senate. The honourable senator immersed himself in the issues of the day, and he never shied away from taking on a hostile media.

  Every now and again this parliament is enriched by men and women who have colour and a passionate commitment to their political beliefs. Senator Richardson is such a man. I never doubted Senator Richardson's absolute commitment to having our party elected to government. His commitment was to our getting into office and staying there.

  As far as Senator Richardson's parliamentary career is concerned, he is one of the Labor members of parliament and senators—as are most in this chamber now—who, during the whole period of their parliamentary career, have only experienced Labor in government. Whether it was on the backbench, in the ministry or in cabinet, the honourable senator was central to the political process that gave this government its character.

  I do not think the honourable senator has ever delivered a boring speech. I do not think he has ever spoken without making an occasion important to himself and to those who listened to him and without addressing significant issues which attracted attention from a wider audience. Senator Richardson is one person who has made a difference in Australian politics.