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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2350

Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (1.08 a.m.) —We all acknowledge that this is the end of some kind of era. I do not know Senator Richardson as Senator Faulkner does, and I will not have the opportunity to do so. I do not really understand the tribal culture of the Australian Labor Party, although we have had a pretty good lesson in some of it tonight. Apart from one briefing on proposed changes in health policy, in four years I do not think Senator Richardson and I have exchanged more than 600 words, so I thought I would keep my speech this evening to 600 words in keeping with that.

  I cannot really assess what sort of loss the honourable senator's departure will be for the Labor Party in terms of keeping the show—as the honourable senator called it—together, but I did notice a comment that the honourable senator made at his press conference earlier tonight that the New South Wales Right will probably now come to consensus decision making in a more formal way than it had previously.

Senator Faulkner —Did anyone believe him when he said that?

Senator KERNOT —It did prompt us to speculate. We were not sure how members of the ALP would formalise the sort of number crunching that Senator Richardson is known for. We wondered whether he would be booking the Hordern Pavilion and selling tickets or making it into some sort of Olympic sport, but we thought that the New South Wales Right would certainly win the gold medal.

  However, whatever the retirement of Senator Richardson means to the Australian Labor Party, it does mean the loss of a colourful parliamentary character. I noticed at the honourable senator's press conference that one of the main influences he quoted in making his decision was that looking at Senator Michael Baume across the chamber was enough to make him hope that he would not end up like that.

Senator Collins —He does that to everyone.

Senator KERNOT —I was just going to say I often feel the same way when I look around the chamber, but not just at Senator Michael Baume. In terms of political careers—I heard Senator Richardson outline his career during his press conference tonight and I did not know most of it—I have to say that Senator Richardson's must rank as one of the most significant in recent Australian political history. The party secretary at 26, senator at 33, minister at 37—and all from a start on New Faces, I believe.

  In policy terms, he did put the environment on the Labor Party agenda. Some people say things about his motives and whether it was

genuine concern for the issue or genuine concern for getting re-elected, but whatever the motives were, I think the results were genuine—genuine results were achieved, and there is still plenty of work to do. I am looking forward to the new ministers' contribution in picking up his baton and running with it.

  From where we sit, his time in social security was not quite so auspicious, but I do not think he will lose any sleep over that. His last hurrah was in health, and I think he can be very proud of his efforts to lift Aboriginal health to the top of the political agenda. I believe that is one of his genuine interests and political aspirations too, and I look forward to the Aboriginal health package in the budget. If what he is intimating about its content is true, then this might well go down as his finest policy achievement.

  We look forward to Senator Richardson's book, which I expect will cover in some detail a whole host of things that many people will be looking to read, about winning and keeping government perhaps. My colleague Senator Bourne has lots of Richo anecdotes, most of which are not suitable for repetition in this chamber this evening, except for one. She told me how on the day before the last election she was walking down Phillip Street in Sydney with an armful of flowers engrossed in thought and he jumped out literally in front of her and warned her that if she did not look where she was going, she might run into people. He was looking and sounding incredibly cheerful and he proceeded to tell her that the ALP was going to win the next day's election by 13 seats. We really think that is the ultimate in number crunching.

  I vividly remember the night Paul Keating won the ballot over Bob Hawke and the smile on Senator Richardson's face when he came in here at the 8 o'clock resumption and the way in which the whole Senate erupted, and the way in which Senator Kemp was thrown out that night and we spent the rest of the night trying to undo that.

Senator Kemp —And did.

Senator KERNOT —And did.

Senator Kemp —I was asked back. Remember that, you lot.

Senator KERNOT —But the amazing thing was, I do not think Senator Richardson had said anything—it was all on the provocation of a smile. It is a powerful smile.

  On a personal note, I think he is wise to be embarking on a career at age 44. It is often a mistake to be locked into one career for the duration of one's life. Some of us, though, have not been in this line of work quite as long as he has, so we have some years to go. But, if he is fortunate enough to be able to make a change, then I think I share a philosophy with him, which is seize the day and do it. He has often mentioned that without the capacity for change one dies in this business, and I think that is an important lesson for all of us here on all sides of this chamber. On behalf of the Democrats, I wish Senator Richardson well, but I would not dare call him mate.