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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 1420

Senator ARBIB (New South WalesAssistant Treasurer, Minister for Small Business, Minister for Sport and Manager of Government Business in the Senate) (15:35): Mr President, I seek leave to make a statement about my imminent retirement.

Leave granted.

Senator ARBIB: So far this final speech is going much better than my first speech. Just seconds before I rose to give my inaugural speech, my speaking notes disappeared miraculously, leaving me with a heart rate of about 180 beats per minute. Thankfully, my good friends and TWU colleagues Senator Sterle and Senator Hutchins took pity on me and returned my notes with seconds to go! I thank Senator Sterle for showing restraint today, although I know that if Senator Hutchins were here with him they would be egging each other on to try to embarrass me!

Today of course I rise to give my final speech to the Senate and to the Australian people. I do this with great pride and in the knowledge that I have set a world record for being the shortest-ever serving Manager of Government Business in the Senate, a total of seven days. As anyone who has served in this job would know—particularly now-smiling Senator Ludwig, and Senator Fifield—it is a record I am very happy to hold, given the extreme work demands around the position.

Unfortunately, due to the work commitments of my wife, and because my kids are at school, they are unable to attend today. That is good news for Senate security, because I remember in my first speech my six-month-old daughter was making such a racket that they tried to turf her out of the building, and my wife suggested to the security officer—and it probably was not appropriate at the time—that he jump off the balcony! So security officers can relax today that my wife and child are not here.

There has been a great deal of speculation about my future and everyone is looking for the bombshells. Can I say, the reasons for my resignation are in my statement and I can assure everyone that I am not leaving this chamber to go Summer Bay for Channel 7.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: It was a nice suggestion.

Senator ARBIB: Thank you, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. When I decided to leave this wonderful chamber, I picked up my first speech and re-read it. I looked at what I had said and what I had committed to and the principles and ideals that I believed in. I believe, as all senators and all parliamen­tarians believe, that I have lived up to those ideals and to those commitments, and that is something I am very proud of.

In February this year, it was 20 years exactly since I joined the Labor Party. I was 20 when I joined and I am proud to have represented the party as an official and a senator for 16 years. My love for the party has not diminished one bit. It is a party that I love and believe in. It is a party I am eternally grateful to. I have been lucky and proud to serve in a Labor government led, first, by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and now Prime Minister Julia Gillard. This government has been an embodiment of Labor ideals and the Labor reformist tradition.

What we have been able to achieve for the Australian people in such a short period of time is extraordinary. We have only reached one-third the period of the Howard government and already we have introduced the country's first-ever Paid Parental Leave Scheme, a policy that I have long advocated for. We delivered the historic apology to the stolen generations, we ratified Kyoto, we delivered a massive investment in education reform and mental health reform. We doubled the road-funding budget and invested an extra $20 billion in housing and homelessness programs. We rolled out the most significant piece of infrastructure for national productivity, the national broadband network, and secured the separation of Telstra. And we have delivered major reforms to our tax system to share the great wealth of the mining boom by taxing mining companies fairly and using the proceeds to help fund new infrastructure, increase superannuation, and introduce tax breaks for small business.

But when it comes to delivering tough reforms, I am immensely proud of our government for delivering a price on carbon in the face of hysterical and ill-informed scare campaigns from the conservatives. As I have always said, including in my first speech to this place, the Labor way is to show courage, leadership and the political will to get the job done. The Labor Party has shown that courage and it will be to our eternal credit.

I have always advocated for a market based solution to global warming, and the experts agree that it is hands down the best way to reduce carbon pollution. I have the utmost praise for the Prime Minister in her strength and determination to put in place a price on carbon. Prime Minister Gillard is a remarkable person. She is an outstanding human being. She is tough, she is talented, and she is a friend. I will always be her humble servant.

I want to take this time not just to praise her as a Prime Minister but also to praise her as an education minister. I was lucky enough to serve with her when she was the education minister. I saw her vision for education, I saw her vision for schools, and it is something I truly believe in. I hope that both sides of parliament in future continue the reforms in education, empowering school principals so that they can make the decisions they need to make to get the best education for their children; ensuring the best and most talented teachers are rewarded financially; and looking at ideas such as charter schools in areas such as remote Indigenous communities and also in those very, very difficult-to-teach-in lower socioeconomic schools. Charter schools have worked overseas and they can work here, but only in the areas of extreme need.

I want to take this opportunity to put on record my support also for the Prime Minister in the way she has dealt with the global financial crisis, and also for the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The work that has been done saved the country from recession and kept 200,000 people in jobs. To the Treasurer, my friend Wayne Swan, I have only had three months to work with him as Assistant Treasurer, but I worked closely with him during the GFC. When the history books are written, his name will go down as one of the very best Treasurers Australia has ever had. If the only criticism commentators can come up with about the Treasurer is that he lacks sparkle, then Wayne Swan should wear that as a badge of honour. I want a Treasurer that can get the country through a crisis, a Treasurer that delivers high employment levels, strong economic growth, a solid investment pipeline, and low debt. That is Wayne Swan, and I pay tribute to him.

Minister Wong, the finance minister, who works with him and is a critical part of the economic team, has also done an outstanding job in this area, and I congratulate her for the work she has done. She is one of the most impressive ministers I have ever worked with. She upholds all the characteristics of past finance ministers, something that I and many of my ministerial colleagues have learnt when we have entered ERC and asked for program money. I pass on my best wishes to her for the future and also to her family.

Mr President, I leave the Australian parliament deeply proud of what Labor has been able to achieve in government particularly under very exceptional circumstances—first the global economic crisis, now a European sovereign debt crisis, and of course the difficulties of managing a minority government. As a Labor government we proved how strong our economic credentials are. As I said, we avoided the recession. We kept the economy strong as countries around us collapsed. Other countries believe we are the envy of the world. They cannot understand how we have been able to avoid some of the downturns and the social problems that they have experienced since the start of the crisis. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was an extraordinary leader. He won the 2007 election and he brought us into government. I honour his legacy, particularly in two areas of policy I am incredibly passionate about that he put squarely on the political agenda: homelessness and affordable housing, and Closing the Gap and the apology to the stolen generation. The plight of the homeless is often one of those confronting social issues that all too many of us prefer to ignore or pretend is unfixable. People might say the problems are too complex to fix, but when I was the Minister for Social Housing and Homelessness I saw time and time again people's lives being turned around and turned around permanently.

I am extremely proud of what the government is doing in this area and also our record $2.2 billion investment in mental health. We know that there is a high coincidence between chronic mental illness and homelessness. Sadly, it is a very disastrous by-product of deinstitutional­isation. Deinstitutionalisation was a good thing, but when you say, 'Let's not lock people up in mental institutions, let's use community based care services,' you have to make sure that the services are there.

Again, I am proud to have been part of a Labor government that has given the greatest ever boost to homelessness funding in federal history, $5 billion, and to have set strong ambitious targets to reduce homelessness—a strategy and a plan that is working. We are getting results. I saw this firsthand as the minister. We are making progress and I urge all parliamentarians in this chamber and in the other place to continue the work on homelessness. Make it a bipartisan issue. We can break the cycle.

When we talk about the issue, though, it is not just about more money. I know a lot of people say to just put more money into it. It is not about more money. We need to change the way we approach housing in this country. We have major problems around affordable housing. During the GFC we introduced some extremely good programs, some great programs—the government's National Rental Affordability Scheme and the Social Housing Initiative. I know the Labor government will continue to support those schemes, but we need to do more. We need real reform of the social housing, affordable housing sector. I hope that the next round of funding to the states under the NAHA, the National Affordable Housing Agreement, is dramatically different. We need strong targets to measure actual progress in outcomes and growth in the housing stock but also to measure what we can do to factor in new homes for people who are homeless.

We need to move away from a monopoly over social housing by inefficient state bureaucracies. We need to encourage more community housing and we need a regulatory system for housing providers, including state governments. Putting up roadblocks in the way of a better social and affordable housing system makes me incredibly angry, because it is poorer Australians that suffer as a result. I know that the advisory council that I set up headed by former FaHCSIA secretary Jeff Harmer has the talent, the vision and the knowhow and will work with the government to reform social and affordable housing.

There are lots of models; there are lots of ways. One of the ones that I think we should seriously consider is the Defence Housing Association model. It has achieved great success for that sector in increasing housing stock but also has been a credible investment vehicle for mums and dads. I think there are major possibilities for that scheme to be moved across to affordable housing to assist with aged housing and also social housing. It needs to be looked at. I know that this is something that the government will continue and I hope all senators sign up to it.

When I entered the parliament I said in my first speech that the only way to achieve real results for Indigenous Australians was to empower them through education and training and to break the cycle of welfare dependency. I was lucky enough to serve as minister responsible for Indigenous employment for 2½ years, first as Minister for Employment Participation and then as the Minister for Indigenous Employment and Economic Development in the newly created portfolio. During that time I worked closely with Indigenous people and organisations and the private sector to do exactly what I set out to do: empowering Indigenous Australians through education and training and breaking the cycle. We have come a long way in a short period of time.

Together with Indigenous business leaders, I set up the Australian Indigenous Minority Supply Council, or AIMSC, which connects Indigenous suppliers or businesses with government and corporate purchasers. In its first two years of operation, AIMSC facilitated $21.7 million in contracts between small businesses and suppliers. That is $21.7 million in revenue for Indigenous small business, which is phenomenal. It is going to help a lot of businesses.

I also worked closely with Penny Wong and then Minister for Finance and Deregulation Lindsay Tanner to implement the Indigenous business opportunities policy as well as exemptions to mandatory procurement procedures for Indigenous small and medium enterprises. It is the growth of Indigenous businesses that will break the cycle of welfare dependency and mean long-term economic development for Indigenous Australians, because not only do they create wealth for individuals but also it means more Indigenous jobs and we are seeing it every day.

When I travelled out to remote Indigenous communities throughout the country I was struck by the unique unemployment challenges those communities face because of their remoteness, because of the lack of markets. I began to see that the government's unemployment service, Job Services Australia, was not working as it should in remote Australia. We needed to do better; we needed to change the model. That is why I began the process of reform to establish a new remote employment services system—a system that is tailored to the circumstances of individual communities and their job seekers, a system that is flexible and responsive, a system that will deliver better results for Indigenous job seekers. I look forward to being outside the Senate to see this new system put in place over the coming years and to see the positive changes it will bring in those communities, helping not just job seekers but Indigenous leaders and Indigenous communities to help themselves. That is what they want to do. They want to break the welfare cycle more than anybody. We need to give them the tools to do that, but governments cannot do it alone and, when governments are leading it, often we fail. We need Indigenous communities to lead the way and this system is set up so that they can do just that.

But the work I am most proud of in the Indigenous employment portfolio is around schools. The best way, the only way, to make the shifts we need to in Indigenous employment is through the school system. We are investing huge resources to do just that. One of my favourite programs is the Learn Earn Legend! program. It is about keeping kids at school to year 12. We know that if a child stays on and gets an education it is going to give them the best chance of getting a job, getting employment. If they get a job, they become a role model, a legend for their own community, and that is what we need: role models. If the parents have not worked or been to school, what is the incentive for anyone in a family to go to school? That is what Learn Earn Legend! is about. This is a program that is working. This is not training for training's sake. This program is achieving results in the schools in working with business. We bring business into the school gate, we bring sporting groups into the school gate, we set up partnerships for training—real-life work experience during the week—and we are getting conversion rates.

The Titan program has 85 per cent conversion from school to employment or further education. It is working—it is working now—and in 10 years time we will wake up and see Indigenous lawyers, doctors, politicians, teachers, police officers and welfare workers, and we will wonder where this most talented generation came from. The work is being done right now, and that is something that I will never forget. I thank all the workers in FaHCSIA and in DEEWR, and of course Jenny Macklin—who without doubt is the best ever minister for Indigenous affairs in the country's history—for the work she has done.

Without doubt, one of the best jobs in the country is that of Minister for Sport.

Senator Brandis: Hear, hear.

Senator ARBIB: I will take that interjection. I was incredibly lucky to serve in that role for 18 months. I do not think I need to explain to anyone in this chamber, anyone in the audience or anyone who is listening how important sport is to us as Australians and to our culture. But I do not think Australians really understand the power of sport. We love watching it but we do not understand the power of it. Sport has the power to transform lives and, right across the country, in small towns and big cities, I have seen sport inspire young people, old people, people with a disability and people from every imaginable background and circumstance to do things they thought were never possible. I just need to look at my own life to understand the power of sport. If you do not believe me—if you think I am gilding the lily—speak to someone like Kurt Fearnley, one of Australia's best and greatest athletes, about the power of sport to help young kids with a disability. Sport changes lives. So much of the values you learn through sport, like resilience, friendship and self-confidence, are lifelong values we need to teach all our kids.

A fundamental goal that has underpinned everything I have tried to do as minister for sport is the desire to get more kids enjoying the benefits of sport—getting kids off the couch, away from their PlayStation and onto the playing fields. The best way—the only way—to do this, is to make sure that sport is part of our national curriculum. We must introduce sport into the national curriculum for students. We must give them the opportunity to play sport. Dropouts in participation always start because young kids do not pick up the core fundamental sports skills when they are in primary school or when they are in the early years of high school. Since I have been the minister I have been advocating for sport in schools, and I will continue to do that outside of this parliament.

I have also been an unapologetic supporter of elite sports. Elite sport creates great role models and provides inspiration to Australians young and old. There is no doubt in my mind of the inseparable connection between Australians being on the podium and young Australians participating in sport. I think we have laid the foundation for Australia to continue our incredible achievements at the high performance level. Through the Green and Gold project, the joint initiative between the Australian Institute of Sport, the Australian Olympic Committee and the Australian Paralympic Committee, with the cooperation of the government, sports funding has never been greater. I believe we are now well placed going into London, and I would say to all of our athletes who are heading over there to compete generally: 'Best of luck; every Australian is immensely proud of you and I honestly believe we will have a great games—sorry I could not join you.'

I have also made preserving the integrity of sport a priority during my time as minister. In particular, I believe the next great challenge we face in sport is match fixing. Match fixing and any type of cheating in sport erodes people's confidence in sport. It strikes at the heart of sport. It is one issue where we simply cannot afford to take our eye off the ball. However, just as Australia helped lead the way in the fight against doping in the eighties and nineties, we are again leading the way when it comes to combating match fixing. The Commonwealth has reached agreement with all states and territories to develop nationally consistent criminal laws to ensure that anyone who engages in match fixing is punished. This is a great achievement. It took a great deal of work. I thank all my state sports minister colleagues and all their departments for the effort they have put in place.

But we need to go much further. Sport is international, gambling is international and corruption is international. While it is important that governments, sporting organisations and betting agencies take a stand domestically, at the same time there is an imperative that there is a framework for cooperation internationally. We need an international body similar to WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, that can deal with match fixing, and I will be doing everything possible to urge the government and sporting bodies to achieve that goal.

Finally, I would encourage every senator in this place and all sides of politics not to relegate sport to the backbench. When a sports minister in the future goes to the ERC and sees Penny Wong—or Senator Bernardi on the other side, when eventually he is the sports minister, probably two decades from now—please understand the power of sport and the social benefits that come from it. I have many thankyous, but I start by thanking a group which is extremely important to me, and that is the rank-and-file members of the great Labor Party of New South Wales and the great Labor Party of Australia. These are the people who really go out of their way to help a party they love do so well at every election. They are always out at the polling booths, even when they know in some seats there is no chance of winning. Their dedication is stunning. But it is not just about the machinery of politics—the pamphlets, the postering; it is also about policy. When I was an organiser and party secretary one of my favourite party members was a man named Brian Driscoll. Brian recently passed away. He was from Lockhart, and the Lockhart branch and was an amazing stalwart for the party in Tiger territory, but the one thing I remember most about Brian is that, in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympic Games, there was a change in the way pub licences were issued in New South Wales. Country pubs were losing their licences to the city to make sure the Olympics had enough pubs and drinking places for people. Brian Driscoll took the issue to the party conference. He took the issue to parliament. He took a stand on the issue. He convinced Country Labor members to change the policy, and that is where community pub licences came from. One man, one party member in his late 60s, changed the policy that affected millions of New South Welshman and allowed them to go to their local pub. That is the power of the ALP rank and file. I pay tribute to Brian. I pay tribute to all those party members.

There is never a perfect time to leave politics. All of us have an inner political clock and our political lives do come to an end, often earlier than we anticipate. It is incredibly hard leaving behind a young family to travel so often as a minister and a senator. I have to say that the real test for me was leaving home every Sunday night. I did not want to leave the house; I did not want to get into the car; it was a big test. I think many Australians think that politicians do very little other than go to Canberra to abuse each other. While it is one of the most satisfying careers, all of us in here know the toll it takes on our families and, as a consequence, our personal happiness. My first speech in here reflected a degree of intuitive foresight, I think. I said in my first speech almost four years ago:

The birth of my children has been the most profound and defining moment of my life. I am proud in the knowledge that my greatest achievement now and in the future will always be the development and care of my daughters.

…   …   …

… what is required is a new definition of success, one that champions the balance of home and work life, because there is no benefit in forging a stellar career if it is at the expense of your children.

When I was promoted to Assistant Treasurer in December, my six-year-old daughter cried. She understood it was going to mean more time away from home. For me, that was a very, very important moment. When I announced my resignation as a minister and a senator I received a huge amount of personal support from friends and colleagues in this chamber but also in the other place. Family is everything, and I think everyone in this chamber understands that. Everyone in this chamber makes sacrifices every day and I hope all Australians understand the sacrifices made by senators and members of the House of Representatives.

I have so many thankyous. I am eternally grateful to the people of New South Wales, who elected me, and I believe I have kept true to my commitments to them and worked for their benefit. I will miss so many people in this place on all sides of the chamber. Today I might start with the Liberals and Nationals. Amazingly, I have a great number of friends on the other side of the chamber. Sometimes I felt I had more friends on that side that on this side. It was probably true! I pay tribute to Senator Williams. Senator, we have worked closely together on a number of different issues in your area. You are an absolutely outstanding senator for the people of north-west New South Wales and I pay tribute to the work you have done. I enjoyed meeting you and I enjoyed your friendship. Thank you. You have a friend in me for life.

I say to Senator Fifield: we started out together on Sky News many years ago. I actually returned to that studio the other morning. It brought back some good memories. I say to you: thank you for your friendship and good luck in the future. Senator Mason, Senator Payne, Senator Cormann, Senator Cash and Senator Kroger and I started the Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect group, and I know your commitment to that cause. It is something that I am totally committed to as well, so thank you for your friendship and support too. Thank you to all the Liberal Party and National Party senators for all the work you do. We disagree on many things and on policy we really disagree, but I understand your commitment. I know you are doing what you believe is in the best interests of the country.

It has been a pleasure working with some of my friends in the Independents. I say to Senator Xenophon in particular: I have really enjoyed working with you. I cannot believe that anyone would have the work rate that you have, especially in a Senate where you held the balance of power. I pay tribute to you and your staff for the work that you have done and I know your heart is in the right place as well. Senator Fielding is not here, but I would say that, similarly, Senator Fielding is also a friend of mine. He was a great football player. His heart was in the right place and he worked very hard for the people of Victoria, so I pay tribute to him as well.

I also have a great deal of respect and time for Senator Bob Brown. While I, again, disagree with many of the policies of the Greens—we come from different parts of progressive politics—I have a great deal of time for the dedication of Senator Brown and a great deal of time for the dedication of all Greens senators. I know how much work you put in and I know the effort you make, particularly Senator Siewert, whom I have worked with closely on Indigenous issues and in the community affairs committee.

I say to my staff, who are in the chamber now: I am so lucky to have had such a wonderful stuff. The hardest thing about leaving and the thing that made me most emotional was having to tell my staff that I was leaving. I say to them that I know they will all go on to bigger and better things because they are one of the most talented groups of people I have worked with. Thank you for the work you have put in. Thank you for the time you have put in and the countless hours. I think staff are sometimes undervalued. That is something I never did and I hope no senator will ever take their staff for granted. I thank my chief of staff Alison Hill, my former chief of staff Bridget Whelan, Sharon Carney, Leo Damis, Katie Ford, David Latham, Audrey Maag, Josh McIntosh, Anda Mednis, Clare Nairn, Sean Sammon, David Sykes, Bryce Wilson, Peter Bentley, Andrew Downes, Glenn McCrea, Julie Sibraa, Elena Forato, Kerrie Hall and Frank Lowah. I also thank all the departments I have worked with. People forget the great work of all the departments and the Public Service and their dedication. I have already put on record those names, but I really do appreciate the support I have received from the Australian Public Service. Their dedication should never be undervalued or underestimated in this place.

I have worked with some amazing stakeholders: Andrew Forrest; John Coates, who is my good friend, and the team of the AOC; Greg Hartung from the Australian Paralympic Committee; Malcolm Speed; and all the other CEOs and sporting administrators. To the AIS and the Australian Sports Commission: there is no better sporting group or body in the world than the AIS and ASC, and we are world renowned for those organisations.

To my friends and stakeholders—in the homelessness area, Tony Nicholson and Narelle Clay; in the Indigenous area, Andrew Penfold and Natalie Walker; the team at AIMSC, Michael McLeod and Smiley Johnstone; Leah Armstrong from Reconciliation Australia; Danny Lester and Dick Estens from the AES; and Jack Manning Bancroft—thank you all for your honest advice and for working with me on policies that help Australians. A special thankyou to my very good friend, Warwick Smith, for being the chair of the Australian Sports Commission. He has been an outstanding chair of that commission and has done a huge amount in governance and turning that institution around. When we get a very, very good result in London, a lot of the credit can go to Warwick.

While I have been the Manager of Government Business in the Senate for a short time, I am eternally grateful for the skilful assistance of the Clerk Rosemary Laing and the staff of the Senate, Maureen, Angie and Josh, in particular. They are an invaluable resource for the chamber. I also thank, of course, all the staff of the Senate and all the staff of the parliament, particularly my friends from Security who I regularly catch up with and talk to.

My thanks also go to the Senate PLO, John Paraskevopoulos. His assistance in getting government legislation through the chamber has been appreciated. I thank my colleague Senator Evans for all his great advice and wisdom. I thank the whip Senator McEwen and her staff for keeping the government on track in this place. To my own parliamentary colleagues, thank you for your friendship and for working with me first as a senator and then as a minister. I have many friends on this side and you will always be my friends, in particular to Senator Sterle, my alter ego Senator Conroy and of course Senator Kate Lundy; thank you for your deep friendship. Of course, Senator Thistlethwaite I have worked with in the past.

Finally, and most importantly, my thanks goes to my family—to my wife, Kelli, to my daughters, Alexandra and Charlotte—for their love, for their support, for their patience when I am away from home, and for their patience when I am at home. I said in my first speech:

If you asked me what would be the guiding principles for my time in this chamber, the answer is simple. As a senator, my children and the welfare of all our children would be my compass.

I can say today with confidence that I have fulfilled that commitment. Thank you.