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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2354

Senator VANSTONE (1.29 a.m.) —I felt a bit sorry for Senator Richardson tonight while I was watching the 7.30 Report, with Walshy reappearing from somewhere—

Senator Richardson —I did not see it.

Senator VANSTONE —I presume it was an interview done today. He said it was a strange irony that in the last 12 months of Senator Richardson's political career he paid some serious attention to political issues as distinct from what he had done in the remaining time. I think Senator Kernot's remarks with respect to his perhaps new-found interest in Aboriginal health reinforce that. But I want to tell Senator Richardson that he should not be too upset about what Walshy said because it is my personal view that we have all got our skills, some more than others in different ways, but they are all different and we have all got our roles to play. His people have made it abundantly clear tonight the role he has played in holding them together. That is obviously a very valuable thing. If he has not had a policy issue in his head in 11 years, which was the implication of what former Senator Walsh was saying, I would not let it worry him. It is all very well to have the policies but if one cannot hold together and get into government it is not much use.

  I think, therefore, that the contribution he has made to his party is obviously a very valuable one and that he can go away with that and be happy. That is reasonably clear, backed up, I might say, in part by the contributions of his colleagues, most of which have concentrated on his contribution to the machine of the Labor Party rather than in this—

Senator Faulkner —What is wrong in that?

Senator VANSTONE —Nothing. I am not being critical. If Senator Faulkner just ever put a decent thought in his head, he might think about it. There is nothing wrong with that, but all the speeches have concentrated on when they met Senator Richardson outside and what happened at this Labor Party conference and that Labor Party conference. There has not been too much about what happened here and about policy issues. Nonetheless, I thought it was a bit ungenerous of former Senator Walsh to make that remark, however amusing it might have been.

  I have not had much experience of working with Senator Richardson. The only one I remember was on the old F&GO committee, unwisely named, I thought, because late at night people might get the wrong idea. The particular meeting was over the superannuation fund investment trust, and the argument was about whether—I think this is right—the union representative could be nominated by the minister or whether the unions would do the nominating.

  We had a lunchtime meeting in some tacky old room in the old Parliament House. Senator Richardson walked in and looked around and thought, `I have not got the numbers here'. I was very new then and I thought, `This is not too bad, we have the numbers here'. Senator Richardson sat down and said, `Look, you can do what you—expletive deleted—well like because, if you take advantage of having the numbers now, we will just undo it as soon as we can, as soon as the Standing Orders allow us to. You may as well just accept that we are going to have our way. I cannot tell you what that is now because the plane'—and he looked at his watch; I remember this quite clearly—`is not landing until'—whatever time it was; I do not remember that. Various ACTU delegates were on that plane and they were coming to tell the government what position he could adopt with respect to that matter. I never forgot that. I have watched ever since and I still think that the ACTU pretty well runs you lot.

  Nonetheless, Senator Richardson was a very reasonable person to work with because he did not muck around. He just absolutely put the view as he thought it was, and I thought that was fair enough. I am sorry, too, tonight that he is leaving without something which I would have liked to have a hand in richly giving him, that is, a decent experience of opposition. I think it might have broadened his character. It might have broadened his understanding of parliament. I think it is a very sad thing that he is leaving with experience of only one side. It is a position I do not, myself, intend to leave in, and I will work my hardest to ensure that the colleagues who follow the honourable senator do not leave in that position as well. The generosity of spirit I have is such that I will do my best to ensure that their characters are broadened and that they do have the opportunity to have that experience sooner rather than later. I think coalition members all wish Senator Richardson well, in varying degrees. It would be unwise of me not to add `in varying degrees'.

Senator Richardson —I would not have it any other way.

Senator VANSTONE —Perhaps largely varying degrees. And some would bid him farewell more happily perhaps than others. I think the one thing we would all agree on is: thank God he is going.