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Thursday, 27 June 1996
Page: 2481

Senator CHAMARETTE —Today I celebrate the end of four years in this place. I am at the end of the six-year term to which I was appointed following the retirement of Senator Jo Vallentine. I use the word `celebrate' in its fullest sense. I celebrate the great debates and historic outcomes in which I have been privileged to participate. I celebrate the end of my time here, including my sadness at not having been elected for a further term to represent the people of Western Australia, the Greens (WA) and many who have supported and relied on my voice. I celebrate all the wonderful people whom I have met, worked with, argued with, laughed and cried with, during my time in the Senate. Tonight I express my appreciation to all of you, my Senate colleagues. I particularly wish all the best to those who, with me, are departing. It has been a fascinating, challenging and at times frustrating experience.

I, too, want to express my appreciation to the clerks—to Harry, Anne, Cleaver, Peter, Rosemary and John. When I came as a solitary senator in 1992 they were a tremendous help to me. It was a very invidious position, and I am also very grateful for the model provided by my neighbour in my previous place in this chamber, Senator Brian Harradine. I do not think I could have had a better teacher for some of the procedures that were used in this chamber.

I want to express my gratitude to the parliamentary staff in this place, and to the Parliamentary Library, and my tremendous appreciation and respect—in particular to the clerks and all the supporting staff—for the way in which they approach their very important roles in this place for this country.

I really appreciate Hansard. If we had to talk about bloopers, I could talk about my speech during the third reading debate on the native title legislation and how my comment about Henry Reynolds's article on native title being `prophetic' came out as `pathetic'. But I had better not go into too many of those anecdotes in case there would ever be the opportunity to return the compliment in the memoirs, for example, of Bernie Harris, Malcolm McGregor or any of the others. I know that we all really appreciate their hard work, their long hours and their unfailing courtesy and professionalism.

My Senate team has been an avid user of technology. Our very limited staff resources has meant we have relied heavily upon the full breadth of the services available to us. We have helped coax the parliament, we believe, into the 20th century by supporting such things as electronic copies of bills, use of the fax gateway, access to laptops and connection to the Internet.

I would like to thank all the information services support staff in this place, especially user support, which I know is heavily relied upon by my staff. In particular, thank you to Bill Adam, John Kerr, Graham Fawns and John Dyer for their patience and invaluable expertise. Thanks also to Lorraine Kearney and Joyce Clarke for keeping us connected by fax to our constituency networks. I hope that other honourable senators will take up the challenge to ensure that the parliament keeps pace with computer awareness and use in the community. We must maximise communication and consultation with the community and minimise our heavy reliance on paper, with the tragic destruction of our forests.

Thank you to the many others too numerous to name who make this parliament into less of an institution and more of a community—attendants, Comcar drivers, cafeteria and dining room staff and the many others, including, of course, the staff members of other parliamentarians, with whom we invariably develop links and friendships as we work on issues together.

I am very aware that much of the sadness I feel in leaving is at the loss of the community that is my team—my staff, past and present, paid and unpaid. I acknowledge the presence of eight of them in the gallery at the moment. I cannot express the depth of my appreciation. It has been a team. I have to acknowledge that it is very much like an iceberg—one-tenth at the top and nine-tenths at the bottom. The amount of work that both Dee and I have been able to get through would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment of the people who have become not only staff but deep personal friends.

I remember the first six weeks when my team worked unpaid, as I did, before I was appointed to this place. It has been a really interesting last six weeks. It has been quite difficult adjusting to the fact that we are leaving, and there has been a grieving involved in that. It has been very significant.

In recognition of the fact that all I have been able to offer in this place has been a team effort, I have asked some of those nearest to me to contribute to this speech. I explained in my first speech in March 1992 that `Green' as we use it in the movement has become the symbol for change in awareness throughout the world. In the Greens (WA) we talk about our fundamental commitments to our four pillars as: peace and nuclear disarmament, social justice, the environment, and participatory democracy. Also in my first speech I said:

The common thread that unites all those who come into the political arena as Greens, and which sets us apart from other political parties, is a profound conviction that the structures and old ways of addressing the problems will not be effective. While cynicism and apathy regarding politics and politicians engulf the Australian community, as they have done elsewhere, there is a small but growing minority that has not given up but is seeking a revolutionary change in the political system. This revolution, which may be more appropriately called a transformation because it utilises that which is good from the past, is centred on the political process rather than the issues.

The common threads that unite us come from all those areas I have mentioned and you will see them in the following quotes I bring you from Theo Mackaay, Rosemary Greenhalgh, Franci Williams and Jacquie Svenson.

This is from Theo Mackaay, who must be the most hardworking replier to constituent letters and the most diligent speech writer. His speeches are the ones I can most easily speak from because he is so adept at writing sermons. I know we do not speak from notes. If you have ever noticed me looking as though I have got copious notes and talking very fluently, it is probably because Theo wrote the copious notes. Here is Theo's message:

I came into this position with a commitment to social justice, and have found that while I have long known that social justice is about choices—people being empowered to make choices about their lives—I now believe that the fundamental social justice is connection. We are less likely to harm people or the Creation if we have an understanding of our being connected.

When people have no connection with each other, dismissing their place in the community is easy, and the same is true of our connection with the Earth—if we have no sense of our being connected, then we can easily do it harm.

Thus, when we define people in society in categories, into "them" and "us", (or we glibly talk about `the taxpayer will not put up with misspending on payments or programs' when we want to justify spending cuts) we are paving the way for injustice.

Thank you, Theo.

Rosemary Greenhalgh came as a volunteer to help for one day a week and stayed on full time for years. She had this message. It was her inspiration:

May the rights and inheritance of all indigenous Australians be justly recognised, and the land, their mother, not be destroyed by our greed and short-sighted exploitation.

Thank you, Rosemary. Franci Williams wrote:

We are facing ever new challenges to counter the growing social, economic, and political power of conservative thought in both major parties and others who seek to impose their patriarchal, homophobic, racist and fundamentalist values. Let us work together to foster a new politics, a politics of meaning, politics as if all of us mattered, politics that is no less than a revolution in consciousness.

Finally, from Jacquie. The scribble at the top is interesting; it says, `This won't fit but here it is anyway.' Jacquie wrote:

I first came here as a youngen from alternative youth culture in the West, and my greatest impression on arriving in the Parliament for the first time was a lot of men shouting at each other. Not much listening, and not much desire to acknowledge all kinds of wisdom regardless of which party or person it came from, as valid wisdom that would enable the best decision to be reached.

I also saw a lot of people who didn't seem to realise the importance of their decisions on the ground, and the hardships their decisions could cause or prevent for the millions of Australians who have given them the job of making those decisions.

And a lot of people who are out of touch with what's really happening away from the world of marble corridors, chauffeured cars and first class seats on aeroplanes. Some people—people I know and still know, people who I lived and worked with before I came to this place—eat three meals a week if they're lucky and don't have anywhere to live. The decisions you make affect whether that changes to two meals or four, whether those people can afford shoes or must go barefoot. Those decisions affect everything. They affect how much forest will be left for their children.

You are very privileged to be in this place, and the people of Australia have bestowed upon every one of you an enormous responsibility. Those people, and the planet itself, need your best and most considered decisions, made separate from ego and personal gain. In times as desperate as these, nothing less can be accepted. Much time has been spent by Christabel bringing to these hallowed halls the reality of what's happening to the Earth outside these walls, and I and staff before me have written a lot of words about that. I cannot stress more strongly the urgency of those words, because humanity is teetering on the verge of ecological collapse. These are not doomsday words from an environmental fanatic. It is hard scientific fact. If just for a moment during my and Christabel's work in this place you have genuinely heard that urgency and considered it with open eyes and heart, my work here has not been in vain.

It has been a great privilege to be in the parliament at such a significant point in Australia's history. The opportunity to participate in the native title debate was definitely the highlight of my time in the Senate. It is ironic that those who criticised the Greens during the debate now understand our concerns and are calling for the changes we made to the bill to be retained as they are in danger of being removed.

Another achievement in changing the political culture is the recognition that trading across issues is not acceptable as it sells out one issue for another and corrupts the long-term agenda for both. The media acknowledgment of this in the Telstra environment package deal was in marked contrast to the response to the 1993 budget.

But the unique and most positive contribution that we have tried to make is that we became part of a community with a vision for democracy within the Senate. This community includes members and staff of all parties, Senate staff, attendants and basically anyone who could listen and understand the need for consensus rather than the violent imposition of decisions by dint of bullying and numbers. These people were able to appreciate and support our efforts even when they disagreed with our views on the particular issue. It is this group that will miss my Senate team the most. May you reminisce with fondness over the incidents of anarchy—we call it democra cy—and the headaches we caused to Gareth Evans and the previous government. The new government is culture shocked to now be on the receiving end. The Labor Party is pleasantly surprised at our consistency with our previous positions.

We also created or connected with a broader community through many people who wrote to us, valued our feedback on the issues before parliament, supported us in the election, defended us to their friends when we were being slammed by the PM or the press, worked as volunteers in the office or kept us involved and informed of their particular issue or community agency activity. This community of the spirit of democracy continues to grow. I want to mention here Clarrie, Mingli and Victor, who became part of our office community along with the volunteers, Rosemary, Penny, Hugh and Jennifer.

I want to thank, as I had already begun to, in a heartfelt way my Senate team. As I mentioned, eight of them are here. Cathcart, who will certainly be memorable to you, is not. It is quite a gap. I would like to congratulate him and Jill on the birth of Loughlan Alexander Cathcart Weatherly.

Senator Kernot —L.A.W. law.

Senator CHAMARETTE —L.A.W—not quite. We have had some wonderful times on our team. We really appreciated the brilliance as well as the bluster that Cathcart brought to us. Each person has made a contribution. It has made a very wonderful team.

I want to thank the leaders who spoke earlier for their comments and best wishes for the future. I particularly want to express my gratitude to my colleague Dee for her speech, which moved me enormously. I wish her the very best. I feel very sad to be leaving her with such a big load, but I am sure that it will be an exciting time. She is certainly capable of it. I wish her well and thank her for the experience that we have shared together.

Each of the leaders gave their analysis in their own terms of how they saw my presence in this chamber. I would like to be remembered in this way. Many of you have grown to understand the Greens (WA). We are committed to the process as much as the outcome. We feel that in no small way we have contributed to a more consensual approach in this chamber. While this is largely due to the prevailing numbers of the Senate, it is my belief and hope that it is a cultural shift that will endure. I feel that, as parliamentarians, we have little to offer if, as we approach the new millennium, we continue to cling to adversarial politics, a politics of division rather than unity. There will always be truth and wisdom on both sides for all sides.

The community deserves no less than the best possible decisions we are capable of making. `Group wisdom' is a term we use to describe the best thinking of a group. It is not necessarily or absolutely right. There might be one individual in a group who is right. Group wisdom is the best decision for that point in time for that group of people. Every individual has a contribution to make and a hand in shaping the final outcome. Through this process we can arrive at a way of making decisions which honour the breadth of views and feelings in the community and give people a stronger connection to the decisions that affect their lives.

My predecessor, Jo Vallentine, ended her valedictory speech with a wonderful poem called `The Singing Hill'. I would like to end with another poem, mainly by Chris Williams, with some group wisdom thrown in. It is the aspiration that I came to this place with. I go, seeing it as something that is present here and knowing that it cannot stop by the leaving of one or 10 people. It states:

Peace has her own integrity

A song that comes ringing through

Quiet, yet clear and strong

Even in the clamour of loud and angry voices

Which claim the shining edifice as their own.

Truth needs no support from violence

In all its subtle and strident forms.

Control! Deals! Publicity! Power! Now!

For hers is Gaia's older and eternal power,

Liberating when and where she will.

Justice wears many faces

As she responds to wounded Earth and suffering Peoples

Sharing the Spirit of Democracy

Affirming old yearnings and new vision

Emerging, living, growing.

Wisdom gives rare precious glimpses of her beauty.

At the creative moment, as chaos swirls through the marble temple,

She stands there, very still . . .

The future is singing her forward

Upon the Singing Hill.