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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3585

Senator MARSHALL (5:58 PM) —I rise to acknowledge and pay tribute to the contribution made by my colleague Senator Ruth Webber. As Ruth indicated in her speech, we met when we got elected together at the 2001 election and in the processes leading up to us taking our seats in this place in 2002. We became friends straightaway. We both enjoyed a glass of wine, which certainly helped to form a long-term relationship. Ruth always enjoyed white wine; I enjoyed red. But in most other matters we actually agreed. In stark contrast to the comments I made about my colleague Senator Campbell, on most issues I agreed with Ruth. When we did not agree, more often than not she was right, not me. But on one occasion we both got it wrong: we both voted for Mark Latham. Nonetheless, you live and learn.

Being elected with Ruth in the ALP class of 2002 meant we discovered the intricacies and eccentricities of the Senate process together. Senator Webber took to the process with gusto, showing that she was a quick learner in the ways of the Senate—something which may have had a lot to do with her long history of activism across Australia. It also may have had something to do with her having been a whip’s clerk, which is something she conveniently omitted to tell me at the time. And I have just learnt tonight that she also worked for a former senator who was in fact a former federal Labor minister.

Ruth immediately took the fight up to the conservatives, not only on the traditional Labor issues such as workers’ rights but also on human rights, environmental policy and the community services area, where she had long been active before being elected to this place. This work showed Ruth’s continuing commitment to making life better for Australians now and in the future.

Ruth not only acknowledged the achievements that were hard fought and won by previous generations of the Labor movement but realised that she had a part to play in protecting these and building upon them. She is a passionate believer in the central tenet of the Labor Party—the value of employment. She has always believed in work for everyone who wants work, work that is safe and healthy, work that has fair pay, work that allows time for family and community, work that is rewarding and stimulating and work for each according to their abilities. This is why she fought so strongly against Work Choices and for IR policy that valued people and their work.

Ruth has always held the strong belief that economic opportunity is central to ordinary Australians’ lives and she has argued for all people to be able to participate meaningfully in our economy. This naturally followed on from her work with community groups such as Jobs West and DOME, a community based labour market program for mature age unemployed people. In line with this, since entering the Senate Ruth has been a permanent member of the Senate Standing Committee on Economics, where she has worked on many different proposals for economic participation and on numerous pieces of legislation and inquiries.

Ruth has always acknowledged the social change fought for and achieved by progressive people. In pursuit of social change she achieved progressive victories in this place when such victories were few and far between. She achieved victories across party lines and showed how the Senate could be revived as a place for debate and leadership on issues of concern to the Australian community. We saw this in her work on the legislation to allow for the approval and import of RU486 and on the first draft of the most recent stem cell research legislation, which has now been passed by both houses of the federal parliament.

Ruth has worked tirelessly on behalf of all Western Australians in her role as a senator for that state. I recall many Senate estimates sessions where different government departments would be asked about their work in some remote community in Western Australia. If Ruth had not received a satisfactory outcome, she was dogged in her determination to ensure that one was ultimately achieved, regardless of who she had to pursue. Even in the last estimates round she was still hounding Australia Post about providing postal services to rural and remote locations like Tom Price and Marble Bar.

I will miss Ruth’s contribution to this place and I will miss her presence here, as she has been a source of great friendship and great support. Thank you, Ruth. I very much look forward to continuing our friendship outside of this place.