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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2342

Senator RICHARDSON (Minister for Health and Minister for the Environment, Sport and Territories) (12.19 a.m.) —I listened with interest to the contributions in the last 30 to 40 minutes from Senator O'Chee, Senator Ian Macdonald and Senator Tambling. I am going to find it, I must say, incredibly easy to leave here and not to have to listen to their contributions again.

  There are some things that one must try to do on occasions like this, and hopefully one of them is to have some kind of generosity of spirit so that one is not seen to go out on too nasty a note. I am, however, far too greatly tempted. In listening to those three or four contributions, they demonstrate to me why I have had the honour and the privilege of sitting here, and why those who made them have had only the privilege of sitting over there.

  It is certainly true to say that Labor deserved to lose every election that it lost throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. It lost because it was divided. It lost because person for person and, in those days, pound for pound, it simply could not match the Liberal and National parties of that era. But politics is cyclical. As one looks at the 1980s and 1990s, one comes to understand that the position has been reversed.

  Without going through the detail of the individual contributions, it is worthwhile saying that Australia remains so totally unmoved by these contributions that it beggars the imagination. We really have to wonder why any senator would continue to make those kinds of contributions when there are issues of significance—

Senator Ian Macdonald —We have 36 senators; you have only 30.

Senator RICHARDSON —Yes, the opposition has been remarkably successful in having more senators than the Labor Party. Gee, I think that is a terrific achievement! We will just have to put up with having government. It is a blow, yes; I know it is tough, but we will just have to hang on. As I said, when it comes to contributions like that I can only say to those who make them and to the 18 million people out there who are not listening, because they have much more sense than to do that, we are going to find that there are other issues of such magnitude, of such importance, that they deserve serious attention from serious people.

Senator Ian Macdonald —There are one million unemployed.

Senator RICHARDSON —Not anymore and there has not been for some time, although there is an awful lot of them. It is a very serious issue. In fact, it is so serious that one year ago there was an election allegedly fought on that issue. There was a resounding victory for the Keating Labor government in that election. I hope that some senators on the other side of the house—

Senator Kemp —You lied your way into office.

Senator RICHARDSON —No, you lied your way into opposition. That is what happened. Those opposite lied their way there, and we are here—and proud of it.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There are certain traditions that apply both to first speeches and to final speeches. It is a terrible irony that those people who most uphold the traditions of this chamber are the first to subscribe to bringing them down. I ask you to remain silent and to listen to the speaker who has the call.

Senator Panizza —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. While you want to maintain decorum in here, will you see that decorum is maintained in the gallery as well, as the previous President used to do?

The PRESIDENT —I will when I think I need to. I will make those judgments.

Senator Kemp —Mr President, on the point of order: one of the courtesies of the final speech that we have come in to listen to is that the speaker himself shows a generosity of spirit. That has been singularly lacking in the contributions today. If Senator Richardson wants to go on in that way, I am afraid that he will just have to cop it.

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.

Senator RICHARDSON —The only other point that I want to make, especially in response to Senator Kemp's millionth interjection—

Senator Kernot —His point of order.

Senator RICHARDSON —Yes, his point of order. There is a thing—Senator Kemp will not understand this but I will run it past him anyway—called generosity of spirit. Involved in that generosity of spirit is not putting up a couple of speakers at midnight when they were not listed to make sure that I speak very much later. I am glad that those opposite did that, because when I listened I realised why it is I am so proud to sit over here and why it is they sit over there.

Senator Ian Macdonald —You have said that once already. You are repeating yourself.

Senator RICHARDSON —I am glad Senator Macdonald keeps batting on. I have never joined with my colleagues in the kind of interjections that they give to him—not once.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Once or twice.

Senator RICHARDSON —No, not once.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Well, you did it today.

Senator RICHARDSON —No, not once. I have had plenty of shots at him because, God knows, he deserved it but not of the kind that some of my colleagues have taken. I only hope that over time Senator Ian Macdonald grows in the job. God knows, he needs to.

  I want to turn to some more serious matters. I came into this chamber when it had in it Don Chipp, leading the Democrats—Senator Kernot would remember him—Janine Haines, Michael Macklin and a whole range of people. I came into the chamber when people like Fred Chaney and Reg Withers were sitting in the Liberal Party and Don Jessop and a whole lot of other people.

Senator Crowley —Margaret Guilfoyle.

Senator RICHARDSON —Margaret Guilfoyle, indeed. I came here when on our own side we had Susan Ryan, Don Grimes, John Button and a whole lot of people whom we all came to love and admire.

Senator Bolkus —Senator Mulvihill!

Senator RICHARDSON —No, I came here to replace him. While his last words in the Senate may have been, `Tonight I evened the score', I hope mine might be a little different. I remember all of those people. I also remember the kind of chamber it was. I think the chamber has changed over those 11 years and I suspect it has not changed for the better. That saddens me. When you leave the chamber you can at least say, `I will not have to wear it any more. So who cares?'. I suspect that all those people out there who are not listening may not care, but maybe we should make them. If this chamber continues to descend into a chamber where assassination of character is the order of the day, it will never ever live up to the promise that it holds. I hope it does not do that. I hope it can learn that there are other ways.

Senator Ferguson —That is what you used to do.

Senator RICHARDSON —Senator Ferguson has been here for around 3 1/2 minutes and says `Like I used to do'. He can go through in Hansard every single speech I have ever made in this place and he will find that I have never attacked the character of one senator. I have attacked their competence and their political beliefs—that is my job—but I have never attacked one senator's character.

Senator Ferguson —I will read Hansard very carefully.

Senator RICHARDSON —I am very happy for him to go through the Senate record to check that. I will not attack a senator's character. I drew the line at that a long time ago, although I cannot say the same for what some have said of me. I listened to some of those speeches with interest—never with shock or horror because I expected it. However, when it was only me, it did not matter so much. These days the net gets spread much wider. If this chamber is to retain its once deserved reputation as a house of review and as a house where serious policy considerations could be looked at by serious people in a sober manner, it will need to look very hard at itself and the direction it has taken, particularly over the last two or three years.

  I know that long periods of government can cause estrangement from things in which you believe. I know that long periods of opposition can produce high frustration levels that are very hard to control. However, either way, all of us have to learn that we are here for some kind of greater purpose. None of us is perfect. I know that, and I never laid claim to being perfect, but I hope all of us can rise above the temptation of a cheap shot. There is far too much of it going on. It does not matter when it is banter between two people who are sorting each other out and counting hairs on chests. However, it does matter when we are discussing serious policy issues. Unfortunately, it stopped mattering here some time ago. All I ask is that it matters again.

Senator Kemp —Have you told Paul this?

Senator RICHARDSON —I have had a number of conversations with the Prime Minister (Mr Keating). When I was in Fremantle a couple of weeks ago, I noticed the advertising that the Liberal Party of Australia was running in the Fremantle by-election. I looked at it very carefully. It was as though the last two years and the last election had never happened. The last two years and the last election did happen.

  Every time honourable senators opposite raise leadership as an issue and attack our leader, they have to understand that they bring their own leadership up for debate. I am not sure whether you have worked this out, Senator Kemp, but every time you do bring it up, you lose, and you lose badly. I hope that one day honourable senators opposite work out their leadership problems. I hope it is not too soon, but I hope one day it does happen. I also hope you and your brother sort out your differences, Senator Kemp, because I like to think of families being together.

Senator Kemp —You sorted out a few!

Senator RICHARDSON —Tomorrow I am having breakfast with Bill Hayden and in two weeks I am having lunch with Bob Hawke. They will both be occasions of some joy for me. I always like to get together with my mates and reminisce about old times.

Senator Loosley —About the good times.

Senator RICHARDSON —About the good times, yes. During the course of the next fortnight I will get that opportunity. However, it would be remiss of me to concentrate tonight solely upon those who sit on the other side without mentioning that I think some people in the opposition are great people, with whom I have worked well, with whom I have very good relationships, and with whom I hope the relationships will continue. So it is not as though I hold some grievance against most of the honourable senators opposite—in fact very few. There are just three or four who have earned that mantle, but for the rest they range from the good, to the not so good, to the incredibly ugly.

  I would like to talk about honourable senators on my own side. Look at them. I have been looking at them for a very long time. One of the first lessons you learn in politics is that one should not look across the chamber at the other side for all of the attacks that one is going to have upon oneself. No! This would indeed be folly. One sometimes has to look behind one—indeed, behind one's back. I look at those who sit behind me and I remember so many things. I will not go through every individual here but, God, I have to go through a few. Sitting here today as the manager of government business is—

Senator Faulkner —A very fine fellow.

Senator RICHARDSON —No, it is someone whom I hear on very good authority is about to be promoted quite significantly. I cannot let the cat out of the bag, but put your money on Faulkner tomorrow. I have to talk a little about John Faulkner because he is the first one at the end.

Senator Kemp —You are close friends.

Senator RICHARDSON —To say that he is a close friend is a little strong. I remember Senator Faulkner. I first met him on the campus of Macquarie University in the 1972 campaign when I took Bob Hawke to that university campus for a meeting on the lawn.

  There came to greet us, as the organiser of the meeting, this chubby, bearded lad. Now look at him. The chubbiness has gone. So, fortunately, has the beard. Unfortunately, many of the attitudes still remain. As we met that day, little did I realise that our paths would cross so often for so many years. I think you all know Senator Faulkner as a talented debater, a hard-as-nails negotiator—

Senator Kernot —Oh, no.

Senator RICHARDSON —Not hard as nails? A pussy cat? Okay, a pussy cat of a negotiator. But we of the Labor Right have a somewhat different view. You will find this hard to believe, but there were times when Senator Faulkner and I had some serious disagreements. I want you to know, Senator Faulkner that, for all the appalling things you have done, I forgive you. I want you to know that I harbour no grudge and that within 30 or 40 years they will all be forgotten. But, if I were you, I would be the first to buy the book in September, and I would look up the index, because I have got to tell you that you are there in large lumps. That having been said, I hope that over the course of the next few years as a cabinet minister you live up to the potential you undoubtedly have.

  Sitting next to Senator Faulkner is Senator Ray. This is a bloke I have known a long time. This is the man that you can bounce rocks off and only bruise the rocks. I never met a harder person than Robert Ray—and no-one will disagree with that.

Senator Kernot —Ah!

Senator RICHARDSON —No; the Democrats are on side. That having been said, I am not sure how many people realise the extent of the contribution. There were many decisions taken in the cabinet and in the caucus during the course of 11 years that could not have been taken without him. I suspect that not just the Senate but a lot of people in Australia will hear more about him in years to come as he assumes a greater public role. Robert has an intellect unmatched by many, a tongue feared by all, but, most of all, Robert is not a bad bloke. There are not many of us left, but he is one of them, and I wish him well.

  I also have to refer to Senator Loosley, who sits not far away from me—

Senator Tambling —Behind you.

Senator RICHARDSON —Actually, he is one of the few I would let sit behind me. I would not fear the knife from Stephen. A couple of the rest of you would be a bit of a worry, but I would not fear the knife from Stephen. I have to say that in the Labor Party it is like the Roman Empire but a bit in reverse. When they started hiring mercenaries, they lost. What the Labor Right did in New South Wales was keep finding mercenaries and win. The way we did that was to convince those people who were on the Left but who had the kind of wisdom that only those who wanted to switch could ever have, to make the switch. When I first met him, he was the zone secretary of a steering committee in my area, a great mate of Frank Walker and my sworn enemy.

Senator Faulkner —They don't know what the steering committee is.

Senator RICHARDSON —Actually, it does not matter. You do, and that is all that counts.

  I had a chat with him. You may think that when one gets someone to swing across the factions there is a huge price involved, that there is some dastardly deal, that there is some great gun to the head. We actually talked outside a school of arts in Kogarah on a cold winter's night after a state electorate council meeting and he asked me to organise an interview with Bill Colbourne, a much underrated but incredibly important figure in Labor history, who would not talk to anybody but who did talk to Stephen after I rang him. So I picked up Stephen for a song. Keating is fond of saying of Brereton, `I picked him up on a surfboard and I can put him back there anytime I like'. I am, however, not about to say that of Stephen because, over the course of the 20 years since the school of arts, he has come a long way. I congratulate him on that. I wish him well in the rest of the journey.

  There are a few other characters in this place, however, who must be mentioned. I have to look at Senator Chris Schacht. Well, I have not much choice; I am looking in that direction! I have been reminded tonight of so many things, and I have tried to forget so many of them, but they have come flooding back, and the 1986 conference of the Labor Party was a great moment in history. The President would remember it well, from when he used to think about things like politics, before he moved into the elevated position he now holds.

  I recall a meeting in a swank Sydney hotel. `Twas the Intercontinental. We met in a room called the State Suite, from memory, in the Intercontinental, a couple of months before the conference—your President, the person in whom you have great faith; our minister for industry, in whom we all have great faith; our Minister for Science and Small Business, whose lanky frame dominates the place when he stands; and Peter Beattie, whom most of you have forgotten—

Senator Burns —Not all of us!

Senator RICHARDSON —Not all of us, as Senator Burns says. The odd Queenslander may recall.

Senator Kernot —Quite so.

Senator RICHARDSON —Senator Kernot remembers, and Senator Woodley. That is good.

  We had this meeting—Senator Ray and I and a couple of others; Senator Loosley I think was there, so there were a few of us. We got them to agree to a change in preselection rules in New South Wales that Senator Faulkner did not think was a real flash idea. I think that is fair comment. I would not want to put words in your mouth, Senator Faulkner, but I think that is fair comment.

  I have to say to you, Senators, that, while you will be staggered to hear this, when we got to the ALP conference these solemn vows were in fact broken. I was shocked! Senator Schacht, I cannot tell you how shocked I was. But by God I told the conference. I want to thank those people from the Centre Left faction, because the speech that I made at the conference after that is one that I have still got a video of. I like to play it on cold winter's nights when I have had a few drinks, just to remind me of how much fun politics can be. It would have to be said that I vented some spleen—only a little bit, but it was a lot of fun.

  That having been said, these days I cannot quarrel with any of them. I said in Labor's caucus tonight that when I look at the Labor Party that I joined 27 years ago—rent with not just dislikes but at times hatreds and all kinds of quarrels that could not be solved—I leave with no enduring enmities and only enduring friendships. And that is good.

  Senator Harradine did not quite have that experience. He fell victim to a pretty outrageous decision in 1975. It is all right, it took us a few years to get even with Hartley, but we got there. It took us a few years, but justice was done. I suppose that in that sense, to use a Mulvihillism, we evened the score.

  What I am really proud to say, though, is that what the Labor Party has learned in the 27 years I have been there—I have never claimed to have been a part of teaching it—is that evening the score never did matter very much. These days, when I look around at people I fought with so hard 20 years ago and 10 years ago, even, I cannot remember the last time we had an argument. If you think about the difficulties that some on the side opposite have had with leadership—and God knows we have had a few—you realise that the much maligned faction system, the publicly much maligned faction system, gets us through every time.

  Tonight we had an election for three ministers. It took approximately 30 seconds. Senator McKiernan was the incredibly efficient returning officer who brought this about.

Senator McKiernan —That was a surprise.

Senator RICHARDSON —Your efficiency never surprises me, Jim. When Frank Crean, as Treasurer, walked into the Whitlam Caucus for the first budget in 1972, at 7.30 for an 8 o'clock start, three changes were made to the budget in the first half-hour. That made the printed budget speech useless and it made a joke of a Labor government. Such things are impossible now, because we have actually learnt during the course of the last 11 years to talk to each other and to sort the problems out before they become either an embarrassment to the party or an embarrassment to ourselves. I look back on those 27 years and think it is amazing that we were able to learn as quickly as we did. We put aside so many of those dislikes and we learnt how to win—and by God we became good at it!

  I look at the next few years and think to myself, when I look around, how hard we will be to beat again. What I would like to think, though, is that there will be a contest. Senator Kemp, you have really got to help us with this. We need it.

Senator Bolkus —God help us.

Senator RICHARDSON —Well, no. I have to say, Senator Bolkus, that despite your views I have got faith. I learnt over the course of time to have it. I hope that Australia's parliamentary system endures for a long time; that elections remain competitive; and that no-one is natural in government, but just the best wins. I am confident that in the near future that will be those with whom I have been associated. I wish them well. I won't be at the national conference. I won't be at the national executive. I will be an observer at the state conference. Faulkner and I will have no great debate. The delegates will be bored out of their minds.

  But boredom, when you think about it, helps. Paul Keating once said to me, `The best party officials are those who chloroform the party and make sure we don't have to fight any more'. Well, my days of chloroforming are over. My days of patrolling the corridors for miscreants are over also. But there will be other days. There will be other challenges. I have enjoyed the experience. I thank nearly all of you. To the three or four I don't thank—I don't even hold a great grudge. I hope you sort yourselves out. To the rest of you—to Ronny and all the others, thanks. It has been a great 11 years. I have been happy in it. I tell you what—I will be a lot happier out of it.