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Tuesday, 11 November 1997
Page: 8734

Senator BARTLETT(1.30 p.m.) —Thank you, Madam President. Enough of that legislation stuff for a while; it's time for some serious fun. I would like to begin with a clear and simple message for all Australians, all Democrats members and supporters, the media and other members of this parliament: the Australian Democrats are still here and we are stronger than ever. The last few weeks have been an extraordinary time in Australian politics and for the Australian Democrats. I have been totally thrilled and enormously uplifted by the overwhelming response from Democrats members and supporters in Queensland and around the country. Almost to a person, there has been a redoubled enthusiasm and commitment to what the Democrats stand for—that every person can make a difference in working to make our country and our planet a fairer, safer, cleaner and more inclusive place for ourselves and for future generations.

I have very few concerns about the Democrats ability to rebound from recent events. We are currently experiencing a massive surge in membership, commitment and enthusiasm for the vision and role of the Democrats, a huge increase in membership inquiries and virtually no loss of members, apart from the obvious one, of course. We have had growing levels of public support in state elections, including record votes in the last 12 months in WA and then South Australia. We are on track to do well in the upcoming ACT elections. I acknowledge and welcome the presence of some ACT Democrats here today.

While Cheryl Kernot's defection has been disruptive because of its unexpectedness, we are very much strong enough to absorb her loss, adjust and move on. The team of staff, party officials and members who worked to support Cheryl Kernot as leader of the Democrats are more determined than ever to promote the Democrats aims. One of things Cheryl Kernot said when she resigned from the Democrats was that the party's base for growth and development was secure. I know she said that, because I have the fax that came through to her office while she was making her speech from the exceedingly Hon. Gareth Evans's office outlining her rationale. It says it in there, so it must be true. We very much acknowledge her contribution to making the party as strong as it is today, but we also acknowledge the work of many others who have worked and continue to work to make the Democrats a strong and viable force in Australian politics.

It is a big responsibility to be representing Queensland and to represent the Australian Democrats in the national parliament. I am very honoured and very proud to have that privilege. My colleague Senator Woodley here in front of me is a religious man, as some of you may have gathered, and would no doubt remind me that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. I promise to stop at just one, but I understand first speeches are a time for a little self-indulgence, so hopefully my sins shall be pardoned on this occasion.

Senator Woodley —Already!

Senator BARTLETT —Thank you, Father. Working outside the entrenched two-party system in Australia is an arduous task. The Democrats have been more successful at it than any other party in Australia's history. Senators may be aware that a book on the Democrats first 20 years was launched yesterday. It has certainly been a fascinating 20 years with lots of successes and quite a number of failures as well. In some ways, it is a marvellous time for me to come into this chamber with the first 20 years behind us and a new and stronger wave in the history of the Democrats about to unfold.

Today, 11 November, is a historic day in Australian and world history with many great events and many terrible events happening on this day. Of course, it is best known as Remembrance Day. As the Democrats new spokesperson on veterans' affairs, I would like to record our gratitude to all those who sacrificed so much for their country in times of war. As all senators would agree, war is an abomination and all who have experienced it and endured it deserve recognition.

Of course, 11 November was also the day in 1975 when many Australians celebrated and some were outraged at the dismissal of the Whitlam government. Some time earlier, in 1880, it was the day when Ned Kelly was hanged, a man who some saw as a common bandit and others as a freedom fighter and a class warrior. I do not imagine the event of my first speech is ever likely to be considered that historic, and I suppose it is even a matter of opinion whether it is a great event or a terrible event, but it is good to be able to have that day as a mark that I can think back on.

As with many Australians, my ethic origins are fairly mixed. I have a preponderance of Irish ancestry of which I am quite proud. There is that pride stuff again. I am sorry about that. I also have a smattering of English, Swiss and Greek, including a great-great-grandfather who is acknowledged as the first Greek settler in Australia, arriving in Adelaide in 1840. That background makes me pleased to be the Democrats spokesperson on immigration and multicultural affairs. The importance of immigration and the fundamentally multicultural nature of Australian society since the 19th century is something which has been undermined a lot in recent times. I am very keen to promote the positive and fundamental role of multiculturalism as well as the excellent policies that the Democrats have in this area.

Senators might be able to deduce a link between my Irish heritage and my first direct political activity. This was as a nine-year-old in 1974 when I helped my mother hand out how-to-vote cards for the DLP outside my local school. After what seemed like a pretty hard day's slog to me as a nine-year-old, I went home and waited expectantly for the results on the television and waited to see all the DLP seats swarm in. As most of you would know, the 1974 election saw the DLP completely wiped off the political map in Australia, never to resurface. It was a bit of a harsh introduction to politics, and, I guess, after that one, anything has to be an improvement.

As some media commentators noted in the wake of my predecessor's defection, the Democrats are quite a lot like a family. That is partly why so many people felt her betrayal of the party so personally and why I very much appreciate having so many of my colleagues here with me today in the chamber and in the gallery and, I am sure, thousands around the nation listening on the radio.

I would be remiss if I did not spend a bit of time paying tribute to my own families—both my immediate one and the broader family that is the Australian Democrats—both of which have given me so much support and encouragement as well as the odd moment or two of pain, which I guess is what families are all about. At my wedding last year I inadvertently spoke a bit longer about the Democrats than I did about my own family, which probably was not too good an idea, so I had better redress that imbalance by starting with my immediate family this time around.

I have been incredibly lucky in having such a stable and supportive family, and I would like specifically to pay tribute to my mother and father. I am thrilled my mother is able to be here today, although my father unfortunately cannot. I could not have got a tenth of the way to where I am without their support and subtle guidance. There was the occasional non-subtle bit, but it was mostly pretty subtle. They gave me my passion for social issues and for politics from a very young age, so you can all thank them or blame them, as the case may be, for my being here today. Indeed, it was my mother who actually told me that Cheryl Kernot was joining the Labor Party, so she has got her finger more on the political pulse than I have. I will probably need to turn to her for a bit more guidance than I have been with this politics business, I think.

To my brothers and sisters and their spouses I also say thank you. I will probably need even more support from here on in than I have already received to date, so do not think your work is done yet. You might even have to think about starting to vote Democrat some time. They have got a variety of expertise amongst them which I can draw on, and I am sure I will be subjected to it whether I ask for it or not, including as a mathematician and engineer, a management consultant, a medical doctor and a nuclear physicist, along with my own mother's long-term involvement in women's and employment issues over many years which, again, has been a great source of inspiration to me.

My father endured a long and fairly painful illness for some years before he died. He often used to half-joke—and it was only half a joke—that he was forcing himself to stay alive through that so he could make it to the next election and enjoy seeing Paul Keating get tossed out. Unfortunately, as we all know, politics can be painful business, and his look of disappointment on the morning after the 1993 election was one of the deepest I have seen. Even though 1993 also had the fabulous occasion of John Woodley being elected to the parliament from Queensland—gaining the Democrats two seats from that state for the first time and being the real light amongst the gloom of that election—not even that managed to cheer my father up at all as, despite being an eminently sensible man in many ways, he never did have too much time for the Democrats for some reason. Nonetheless, I am sure he would be very pleased today—probably even more pleased than he would have been when Paul Keating finally got what he deserved in 1996.

To my wife, Julie, who is also here today: I would like to thank you for all your love, patience, support, kindness, forgiveness and insight—just to name a few. I would not have survived to be here today without you, so I guess in some ways that means I owe everything to you.

In the broader Democrat family I have to run the risk of naming some names and inadvertently, therefore, risk leaving some people out. There are so many capable and dedicated people that deserve mentioning. I think in the current circumstances it is more crucial than ever that the contribution of these people is recognised. All of us know that we would disappear overnight without the selfless dedication and commitment of countless people who contribute so much of their own time, money and energy simply because they believe in the ideals and policies of the party.

The Labor Party might be so short on talent and so incapable of supporting and promoting capable women in their own ranks that they have to poach them from elsewhere, but I can assure you that the Democrats are filled to the brim with talented women and men. Some of them, of course, are around me today in the Senate and others are in state parliaments around the country, but there are many more at grassroots level around the country. I would like to single out a number of Democrats, partly just to give a bit of a sample of the many other hardworking and capable members who are not in parliament and are therefore not so visible, and partly because I believe they deserve special mention. It is a long list, but it is just a sample. Queensland is such a big state, so there are a lot to go through.

From Cairns, Alan Isherwood and Leonie Watson, who worked so hard up in the far north with the many issues of importance up there. Colin Parker, a great stalwart, and Annette Reed from Townsville. Ian Hope, who has been slogging away for the full 20 years and more. Lesley Hawes, similarly in Bundaberg, along with Lance Hall, Marsha Ferris, Michael McGuinness and others. People in Maryborough such as Pam Howard, Pam South and Phil Rodhouse. On the Sunshine Coast, Councillor Alan Kerlin, Geoff Armstrong and others. Toni Law, keeping the flame burning in Toowoomba. On the Gold Coast, people such as Col O'Brien, Kathy Shilvock, Sue Moreland and Melinda Norman-Hicks. Our great crew in the town of Ipswich, fighting the forces of evil, including our long-suffering state treasurer, Max Kunzelmann, our candidate for Oxley at the next federal election, Kate Kunzelmann, and our state assistant secretary, Megan Bathurst—all of whom I am pleased to see are here today. Megan is a great champion of reconciliation issues and has done an enor mous amount to promote that through the Democrats and through the wider community.

There are heaps of others I could mention around Brisbane, such as George and Marjorie Blair-West, Councillor Peter Collins, who has done so much to raise our profile in the Logan City area, Hetty Johnston, who is also here today, is our state leader for the upcoming election in Queensland and a great campaigner for environmental and children's rights issues. All the members of the Dickson branch deserve a special mention as they will have a particularly interesting time at the next election. Other people in Brisbane such as Ian Laing, Ian Renton and Mary Anne McIntyre, who has been a loyal deputy president for many years, and newer members such as Lyn Dengate, Greg Hollis, and also Gayle Woodrow, who has put so much into the Democrats over so many years.

A man who deserves special mention is Tony Walters, whose contribution to and effort for the Democrats in Queensland over an enormous number of years must be acknowledged, along with Gael Paul, whose wise stewardship did so much to nurse the party in Queensland through some difficult times in the earlier part of this decade. Another person I am thrilled to see here today is Fay Lawrence from Rockhampton, who is the archetypal Democrat stalwart. She has slogged away for over 20 years, not just for the Democrats but for the causes of indigenous rights, peace and the environment. Her commitment has been unshakeable. One example amongst so many was her recent effort in giving up a month of her time to help our candidate, going all the way to Darwin for the Northern Territory elections. Just another in an endless list.

The hardworking, ever patient and usually cheerful Tracee McPate, our national executive rep, long-term member and researcher Kerri Kellett, and our powerhouse state secretary Marianne Dickie, who has had to take on so much extra in the last few weeks. I managed to convince her to run for the state secretary position earlier this year by telling her that her first year in the job would be reasonably uneventful; nothing too much was likely to happen so she would have a while to get used to the position.

Graham Jenkin, our tireless compiler of the widely acknowledged and renowned Democrats' web site, has also excelled in building a strong and vibrant network of young Democrats in Queensland that will serve us well into the future. Another who deserves special mention is Liz Oss-Emer, an experienced and wise member of our National Executive, who has been a great support to the party over more years than I have been there and a great support to me, even when we have been on opposite sides of an argument.

I recall very clearly being gathered in the Commonwealth parliamentary offices in Brisbane on 1 July 1990, which was the day my predecessor officially became a senator. There were five people there that day, including four staffers—and that includes me. One of those people now lives in Sydney after giving three years effective work to that job; another moved further away from the action and now lives on the west coast of Tasmania; one, of course, has moved further away again and has joined the Labor Party; and the two remaining have traversed an amazing journey since then, with many twists and turns, including a few periods in purgatory and the odd stop off in hell along the way—not always at the same time. It is a real thrill that both Althea and I have survived and are able to share this moment together and, I hope, many more to come.

Other stars who deserve mention include: Cheryl Thurlow, the world's greatest media officer, who also shares the distinction of being one of the few people I have never heard a bad word spoken about; our long-suffering and long-serving national secretary, Sam Hudson, and our national campaign director, Stephen Swift, who have both done so much to make us more professional and disciplined in our campaigning. Funnily enough, I have heard an odd bad word or two about them. But I guess you cannot do those jobs as well as they do without drawing some flak.

It is doubly important that I publicly acknowledge and applaud the hard work, ability and loyalty of the marvellous team of staff who support the Democrats in this parliament and in parliaments around the country, as well as Geoff and Yulia, our staff in the party's national office in Canberra, and the many who have contributed so much to the Democrats' increasing effectiveness in recent years.

I do not know if this does much for people's future job prospects, getting mentioned in the first speech of a Democrat senator—but bad luck. You cannot get me because it is parliamentary privilege once you get in this seat. I have to mention our superstar researchers Jacqui Flitcroft, John Cherry, John Davey, Victor Franco, and our environmental warriors Susan Brown, Fran Murray and Rose Kulak—who had a fascinating introduction to the position.

I also mention Bruce Tait, who may well have the honour of being the only person to serve on the staff of the first four Queensland Democrat senators. I must not forget Shirley Simper, who was mentioned in the media during the last federal election for her skill in smelling a rat about something that was happening in that campaign. Even her widely acknowledged skills were not able to sniff anything out a few weeks ago.

Many people use their first speeches to mention some of their heroes or inspirations. I am not a big believer in public heroes or putting people on pedestals, but I can say that virtually all the people I have just mentioned are an inspiration to me. It is witnessing the ongoing commitment of people who work at the grassroots level to make a difference to our society that I find most inspirational and most energising. If I had to pick a single Democrat out of the pack, I would probably go to one of my original inspirations, Janine Haines, whose insightfulness and originality I found very inspiring and nearly as appealing as her sense of irreverence which she managed to maintain. I think that is very important.

If I had to pick a couple of non-Democrats to add to my list of influences, at the political level, one would probably be Senator Brian Harradine, who has been here in the Senate longer than the Democrats have existed as a party and has been fairly consistent to his principles throughout that time. It is a great thrill to me that I have managed to get into this place while Senator Harradine is still serving here. I am sure he will reward me by voting against my amendments whenever I move them, but that is the way it works.

Outside the world of politics, one person in the world of the arts I would mention is Nick Cave, another person who has been around since the late 1970s. He has developed and changed remarkably, whilst remaining true to his vision. He has been a great help to me as well, without his knowing it. I must say that Nick Cave and Brian Harradine is an interesting combination, even wilder than Nick and Kylie Minogue—I can't wait for that one.

In relation to Cheryl Kernot, I think I can say this: I have learned a lot from her, as I have from many other people. I very much appreciate the opportunities she provided me with and some of the lessons, good and not so good, that she taught me along the way. They have made me a more well rounded if somewhat harder and slightly less naive person.

As I said before, the Democrats are a lot like an extended family and, like any family would be in these circumstances, we were hurt by her decision to leave us. However, the reasons for her decision, whether they be good or bad, are basically unimportant. She has made that decision for her own reasons. The Democrats have accepted that, and life will go on. I expect we will maintain an interest in what she does and how she gets on, in the same way that a family would about a child who has decided to leave home. But we certainly will not sit around and mourn, or feel sorry for ourselves, or wonder where things went wrong. We will get on with our lives, as she will get on with hers.

After the initial period of shock, there is very little anger in the Democrats at what has happened. There is, however, a great deal of determination to ensure that the legacy and role of the Democrats is maintained and continues to grow, because it is so important to the future of this country. As the political saying goes, `Don't get mad, don't get even, get ahead.' That is what the Democrats aim to do.

I will mention a few areas where I have some particular interests. I hope I can look back in a few years time and be able to say that I have helped to bring some progress in those areas. I believe Australians are feeling more and more disempowered and disconnected from the political process. This is bad not merely from the point of view of the legitimacy of the democratic process, but also because of the lost opportunity for our country in having the skills, ideas and energies of the community being positively applied to address issues of importance. It is time people were encouraged to have input into the political process, whether in the party political sense or at a community political grassroots level. I hope I am able to help in that regard.

The community's disaffection with the political process links to the social and environmental damage caused by the anti-people economic policies pursued by both Labor and coalition over the last decade. Both parties have put economics before people, I believe, with disastrous results. Both parties have forgotten that we live in a society, not an economy, and that the economy must be subservient to social and environmental requirements, not the other way around.

I am personally very committed to encouraging us all to give more consideration to the welfare and rights of animals. The lack of consideration humans give to each other in the world today is exceeded only by the lack of consideration we give to the other animals we share the planet with. My personal belief is that there are compelling environmental and ethical grounds for encouraging people to stop eating animals.

Vegetarianism has a long ethical tradition in our society. There are also very sound theological arguments in the Christian biblical tradition against the eating of meat where practicable, as Senator Woodley would acknowledge. I have found many people acknowledge some of these arguments, but not enough to stop their meat consumption. I guess the spirit is willing, but the flesh is just too tasty for many people.

Whilst I understand the traditional, cultural and economic reasons why animals are imprisoned and killed for human consumption, I believe the time has come for us to look to move beyond that. There are too few voices for the welfare and rights of animals in our society, let alone in our parliaments. I hope I can provide a voice for them in this place.

I move to one of the most important issues facing us all at this most significant time in the history of federal parliament, with the crucial choice facing us regarding native title about to unfold in the next few weeks. Personally, I feel very sad that the golden and positive opportunity that native title and the Wik decision in particular presented to our nation has been squandered beneath an avalanche of fear, ignorance and deliberate deception. If only a small effort had been given to exploring and explaining the positive benefits for all of us of the concept of coexistence, none of the current divisiveness would have been necessary.

One has to look only at the recent successful negotiations close to where I live—over Stradbroke Island and parts of Moreton Bay near Brisbane—between the Quandamooka Land Council and the Redlands Shire Council. These groups used native title not to battle each other in the courts but to examine ways of working together to see what positive options are possible for the future through a responsible and mutually respectful approach.

I believe no other party in Australian history has so completely and fundamentally betrayed its own basic principles and its own constituency than the ALP has in the last 15 years, although I guess the Nationals have given it a bit of a run for its money with their support of the level playing field and pushing family farmers off the farm. Anyone who believes there has been some fundamental change in the Labor Party—the party we all know will do whatever it takes—needs a serious reality check. It will take a hell of a lot more than a bit of warm rhetoric and some nice repackaging to turn around such a record.

It has to be acknowledged that there has basically been a joint effort by Labor and the coalition in doing so much damage to our nation. Both have willingly unleashed the scourge of uncontrolled and heartless market forces with no regard for the human, social or environmental cost. Both have embraced wholesale privatisation and been unparalleled perhaps in the world in promoting the idiocy of the level playing field and deregulated global competition with little regard for human rights or environmental damage. Both have championed GATT, the World Trade Organisation and, on a local level, the national competition policy.

Both have supported uranium mining, increased the amount of forests being felled and woodchipped, and overseen further degradation and pollution of our rivers and wetlands. Both cynically and continually have slashed levels of overseas aid, betrayed the East Timorese people, supported up-front fees for tertiary education, continuously tightened and restricted the social security safety net and irresponsibly slashed the tax rate for high income earners and companies. Both have supported policies which have seen the death of egalitarianism in Australia and a growing gap between rich and poor. That is why I am a Democrat and why the Democrats and our role are so important. What more of a reason could anyone need?

Having just alienated virtually everyone in the chamber, including probably Senator Brown, who will probably not talk to me now because I like Senator Harradine, I would like to thank so many senators for taking time out from their busy schedules to come and hear my speech, along with those who listened so politely in the gallery without any boos or hisses. I realise it is the largest crowd I am likely to get for a speech in this chamber for a fair while, so I best enjoy it. I would also like to thank the Queensland and federal governments for so helpfully enabling me to promptly fill the Queensland Senate vacancy. It is very much appreciated.

To all I have named and all the thousands of other hardworking Democrat members, supporters and parliamentary staff I have not mentioned I give this commitment: I will do all I can to work with you to make our country and our planet a better place. I will not forget the vital role that you all play in shaping the Democrats' vision and policies, in gaining the Democrats votes and seats in parliaments and in supporting the Democrat parliamentarians who represent the party. I will not turn my back on you. I will work with you to make the Democrats and the ideals and policies we stand for more prominent than ever in Australian politics.

Honourable senators —Hear, hear!