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Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Page: 1172

Ms MACKLIN (Jagajaga) (16:01): on indulgence: I need to tell you, Mr Speaker, there's a lot of unparliamentary behaviour going on up here—they're having a bet about how soon I'll cry! Those of you who do know me very well know that the hardest thing about delivering this speech will be whether I make it through. Over 23 years in this place, I have, it's true, quietly, or not so quietly, sobbed as good friends have said their farewells. God. You see? Who am I going to miss the most? Well, now it's time for mine. It's true I don't like talking about myself but I hope you will all permit me to say a few personal things and, of course, many thankyous. I do want to talk about some things I've been thinking about—our party, our parliament, our country and its future.

First, I want to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples, who are the traditional custodians of the Canberra area, and I pay respects to the elders past and present of all Australia's Indigenous peoples. These are the words the Speaker uses to start every sitting day. When I was first elected, all that time ago, we didn't do that. We do now. Back then, we hadn't said sorry to the stolen generation, and the disadvantage gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was a gulf. A lot has changed, but too much has not. The shameful historical treatment, the present disadvantage and injustices should make us determined do more and do better with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander citizens. And please, please, let us not go back to the false dichotomy between practical and symbolic change in Indigenous affairs. A good education is vital, as are health care, housing and employment, but so is pride in yourself, power over your own life, a sense of belonging and respect, and that's what the voice to parliament is all about—our First Australians being heard, being included, being respected. This could be a powerful unifying new institution for our country, something all of us can be proud of, so let's get on with it. I do very much hope that this fabulous new generation of parliamentarians sitting here today will do just that. You, all of you, are the custodians of our democracy now, and our democracy really must be nurtured.

In my first speech, I spoke about citizenship. I said it wasn't just about having a vote or holding a passport:

It means being able to share in the life of the community. It means enjoying a certain level of security. It means belonging.

The truth is that we all need each other. We need to look out for each other, protect each other and protect the institutions that bind us together. There are some things in life we should all be able to rely on. We all deserve to know that no matter what—old or young, city or bush, rich or poor—we will be able to lead good, meaningful lives that are full of purpose; that Australians everywhere can afford to see a doctor; that the children I have met in Fitzroy Crossing get the same chance at a great education as children in Melbourne; that pensioners in my Heidelberg West can have dignity and security in retirement, just like everyone else; and that my children's generation can fulfil the dream of homeownership. Each of us is subject to the twists and turns of fate. Our social safety net is there to protect everyone, and everyone deserves the security of knowing it's there when they need it. If these fundamentals of Australian life break down or only exist for the better off, then our social fabric breaks down. The same goes for our national institutions.

Canberra can seem a world away for someone trying to raise a family or find a job, as they turn their TV sets on to see politicians talking about nothing but themselves. Australians are losing faith. They don't trust the institutions and systems that they are told are there to provide for them and protect them, and why would they? What splashed across the front pages during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry reinforced what many people had long suspected—that the system is rigged; that the powerful people can do what they want and take what they want, and nothing will change; and that there is one Australia for a few and another Australia for the rest.

I do fear something has shifted in our national psyche in these past few years. There is a disconnect—in fact, a giant chasm—between the lives that most Australians are leading and the priorities of the institutions and people who are meant to be serving them. But I fear more for the reckoning it seems to be heralding. It is bad enough for Australians to lose faith in us; it is worse still if they give up on us. We cannot allow this to happen. Our people are too important and what we have all built is too precious to let it all crumble.

I believe there is a common cause to the divisions and exclusions that exist in our society. It is inequality, and it is dragging us down. It is the wealth gap between the top and the rest. It is the disadvantage gap between the First Australians and the rest of us. It is the opportunity gap between young Australians and the rest of us. It is something less tangible and less recognisable, but more pervasive and punishing. It is the poverty of hope that inequality breeds. Inequality in all its forms is the driving force behind the divisions in our society, and confronting inequality, wherever it is found, has been my motivation for a career in public policy, because tackling inequality needs government—a government that believes in creating opportunity.

I came to this place knowing that government matters, but I leave here more sure of that than ever. When I was studying economics at university—it was a long time ago—they taught us about Adam Smith's 'invisible hand'. When I was a young policy researcher, Margaret Thatcher was telling the Brits:

… there is no such thing as society.

I thought it was a load of nonsense back then, and I haven't changed my mind. Government matters. Good government matters, and good governments are active governments—activist governments. They protect. They empower. Only government can put the rules in place to stop the gross abuse by the powerful and corrupted. Only governments can create something like Medicare or the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the essential supports that are there for all of us. Good, active governments need leaders prepared to make big decisions and people prepared to do the detailed policy work and the advocacy. That's what I've tried to do here, and we did do some good.

We delivered the single biggest increase to the pension in its history, lifting one million older Australians out of poverty. We delivered the first national Paid Parental Leave scheme, enshrining the economic and social value of working parents, particularly working women. We introduced the National Disability Insurance Scheme, the biggest social reform of our generation, giving people with disability the equal place in society that they deserve but had been denied. We also secured the largest funding increase for housing in remote Indigenous communities.

As I've reflected on these achievements in recent weeks, it's certainly clear there is no finish line for us progressives—no distant point in the future when we can say that our job is done. The social democratic task, building an economy where everyone can contribute and everyone can share in its growth, is a perpetual task. I do have enormous faith that the next Labor government will be a progressive, reforming Labor government in the best of our traditions.

Bill and Tanya's leadership, and their partnership, has defined this period of opposition—I can't look at Tanya; you're definitely right about that, Wayne! Their unity of purpose and policy focus means Labor is ready to take up the task, ready to rebuild the safety net that's been cut, ready to restore the trust that's been lost and ready to return fairness to the centre of economic and social policy. As ever, this will require hard work and tough choices. I have to say, I think of one person when I say those words: Penny Wong. Her leadership in the Senate personifies this approach.

I think all of us come here a little naive—I certainly did—and not aware of how much we'll be tested and how often we'll have to grapple with competing priorities. I see the member for Curtin opposite me. She and I have shared a lot of instability in our parliamentary careers that I don't think we anticipated when we first came in. We all have very high hopes of what we can achieve, but each of us is confronted with very difficult decisions about what we will or won't say, what we will or won't do and how our words and actions could heal or hurt. The evidence before us, public opinion, our relationships, party loyalty and personal morality all influence us.

I remember the first time I was confronted with something like this, an issue where I had to stand up for what I believed. It was the fight over overseas aid that supported the reproductive rights of women. I had actually only been here a few weeks. Maybe it was a bit too soon to be disagreeing with the wonderful Kim Beazley, but so it was. There have been many, many more of these difficult decisions since, particularly on the Expenditure Review Committee, where you have to weigh the value of spending money on one group of people against another. But this is why we're here. We are brought here to make these hard decisions. It doesn't mean we always get it right—we don't—but the public will understand us more and respect us more if they know how we make these decisions and know about the choices that they involve.

It's also sometimes the case that the big decisions aren't so big after all. They're not so hard, after all, when their time has come. Think of the national apology. For all those years it was resisted, compounding the hurt. But in the moment, when Kevin finally spoke for all of us, and I mean all of us, and said that one word, 'sorry', it seemed so simple, so easy. Why did it take so long? It needed leadership. And so it was for the royal commission into institutional child sexual abuse. It was so important for so many people who had been abused and not believed. Yet I remember that one prominent commentator at the time referred to Julia's decision to hold a royal commission as 'gesture politics'. Of course, no-one would say that now. I am so honoured to have been involved in delivering on these two huge decisions, and honoured to have come to know and love so many of the stolen generations and their families, and the people that we now know as the forgotten Australians. These have been moments to treasure.

There are many other memories and special moments that I'll take with me—far too many to mention, but I just want to touch on a few: welcoming the Japanese Prime Minister with a haiku poem in Japanese; getting a hug from Nelson Mandela—beat that; sitting in the cabinet room on the Sunday when the global financial system was collapsing, with Kevin and a few others, and Wayne was on the phone from the United States as we decided the plan to save Australians from mass unemployment; singing Stand by Me with an Aboriginal friend whose two brothers had committed suicide, as Bill would know; being with the communities affected by the Black Saturday bushfires, as they walked through the wreckage where their homes used to stand; standing arm in arm with families as Julia announced we would begin the National Disability Insurance Scheme; and, one of my favourites, hugging a mum whose child with autism had just learned to speak as he sang Baa Baa Black Sheep. I've given and received a lot of hugs!

And I've made so many wonderful friends—all of you. I will miss the camaraderie. I do wish I could mention you all. We're brought together from so many different parts of the country, with different backgrounds. In this intense environment, over a long period, you make deep connections and come to understand and trust one another. Although, after what we've all been through—and I mean all of us—over the last few years, it may not seem like it. But it is possible and it does happen.

Some of the friendships are more unlikely than others, but are borne out of shared values and a deep commitment to serve others, like with two of my oldest friends.

An opposition member interjecting

Ms MACKLIN: Breathe deeply? Okay! There is Tanya, of course. I can't say anymore. She's a lot younger than me; that's why it's an unlikely friendship. And there is my friend Wayne, from the Queensland Right. You could say it's practically another planet! But I am originally a Queenslander, so that must be it. They are both so special to me, and I thank them. Anthony Albanese—oh dear, this is hard!—has always had my back, always, for 23 years. That's not a bad innings, Anthony. Linda Burney has the biggest heart. There is Tony Burke, the Manager of Opposition Business—I just can't get off the tactics committee!

As well as our leaders, it's our whips who keep us all together. Chris Hayes, it's true, is a gentleman of politics. Frankly, his only failing of leadership has been his decision to appoint me as captain of our parliamentary swimming team! In all this time, we've only beaten the coalition swimmers once, and that's only thanks to Matt Thistlethwaite, and we've never beaten the parliamentary press gallery team. I think they're all a lot younger.

An honourable member: Not you, Dennis!

Ms MACKLIN: He's not in the team! On a serious note, Chris and I have spent many hours with our arms around our colleagues when they needed our professional and personal support. That is something that people don't see. There are so many things here that people don't see.

There have been many Speakers in my time here, and a few unusual ones. Mr Speaker, it would probably be unparliamentary to tell too many stories about them. I will just say to you, Mr Speaker, thank you for your patience. I know that I can be cheeky or noisy. I think you have done a wonderful job for this parliament, so I want to say to you, and to all the staff of the parliament, and particularly to you, David: all the very best for the future.

My dozens and dozens of personal staff that I've had over the years have been renowned for their kindness, their brilliance, their commitment to Labor values—and their incredible fertility! Everybody knows I love children, and I have to say it has been such a joy to welcome so many Macklin office babies over the years. You cannot do anything without great staff. My electorate office has been led for so long by the wonderful Antony Kenney and, before him, Vicki Ward. Thanks so much to Lachlan, Ann, Katelyn, Emily and Mitch. In my ministerial office, I can't mention all of the wonderful staff, but just the chiefs of staff: Joanna Brent, Ryan Batchelor and Corri McKenzie. They have just been so outstanding in their contributions to our country. I particularly want to thank Mike Dillon. Thanks to the young ones—I still call them the young ones—Gerard and Max. In my office in opposition, thanks to Alistair, Alice, Catherine, Alicia and Tim. Thanks to all the public servants—whom I won't name because it might get them into trouble—and advocates. Without the public servants and the advocates, you cannot deliver big reform.

Like all MPs, I think it's true we love our communities that we represent. I certainly do. I love the sporting clubs, the historical societies, the groups that look after the rivers and the creeks, the volunteers who sit with the sick and the lonely, the wonderful Somali community, and my branch members, who are so dedicated, passionate and supportive. If there can be such a thing, I am the No. 1 ticket holder for the Austin and repatriation hospitals, having saved them from Jeff Kennett trying to sell them off. The Banyule Community Health centre, one of the first Whitlam community health centres, is just the best. I just want to say to all of my constituents that it has been the greatest privilege to support you, stand with you and serve you.

Thank you to my neighbours in the parliament and at home in Melbourne, Andrew Giles and Ged Kearney.

I also just want to say something to those opposite. It doesn't happen often, but, when we do find a common cause, it's important and very impactful. What an amazing day it was when we all voted together for the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Now for the hard part—this has been easy so far: my family. The hardest thing about political life has been the time I've missed with my children. There you go, I got it out! But here they are, the three of them, all grown up into the most delightful adults: Josie, Louis and Serge. We're so proud of each of you. And now we're joined by Julia, Laura and, of course, top of the pops, our granddaughter Camille. Another is to be born in a few weeks. We are so lucky.

I recall being in a cabinet meeting, only to be called by one of the boys when they couldn't find their football boots. Of course, whatever I was doing was irrelevant; they needed their boots. But they didn't like it when people were in the news being mean to their mum. When I was the shadow minister for health, I was in a serious scrap with Michael Wooldridge, the health minister at the time. Some of you may remember the scan scam. This was happening at the same time as the debate over the introduction of the GST. Mr Wooldridge kindly suggested the only time I'd have to pay the GST on panadol was when I had my tattoos removed. The children were not impressed. But, after this, an older Liberal gentleman approached me in the chamber to say, 'We know a nice girl like you wouldn't have a tattoo.' In typical Labor form, one of our Labor colleagues—not here today—followed him by shouting, 'Show us your tatts!'

Nothing, absolutely nothing at all, would have been possible without Ross. It has been a great gift, the 40 years of love and friendship, and it would be impossible for me to say what that means to me. Thank you so much.

I've been lucky to have been sustained by the companionship of Canberra friends, some of whom are here today, especially the so kind Julia Ryan, and also by the patience of our Melbourne friends. I do want to particularly thank those people who helped us when Ross was sick and also when the children were doing year 12—I think they mostly fed them. My thanks also to my parents and sister, who have been an endless source of love and support.

I don't like to reflect on it much, as I am aware I'm getting older—first and foremost, because I'm a grandmother; and, second, because of the pride I feel in all of you, this amazing new generation of Labor MPs. When I first came into parliament, there were only four Labor women in the House—four, can you imagine? Now we are on the cusp of 50-50 representation and so much stronger for it. Quotas work.

I'm excited for this generation and excited that you'll be joined, I hope, by Kate Thwaites as the new member for Jagajaga. I was fortunate to have her working for me as we delivered paid parental leave and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. She knows how to think big and get the big things done, and she's a mum so she knows how to multi-task.

My first vote was in 1974, for Gough and for Labor. I couldn't vote in the 1972 election because 18-year-olds weren't allowed to vote back then, though of course Gough would change that. But I do remember being swept up in the energy and urgency of that election, the infectious feeling that change was finally coming. Gough said, 'It's time,' and it was. And now 'it's time' for me—time to move on, time to step back, time for this wonderful new generation of brilliant people to make their impact, as I know you will.

There is nothing wrong with having a big heart in politics—maybe don't sob as much! Seriously, there is nothing wrong at all with a big heart. There are people who really depend on us, who really need us. So heed the words of Martin Luther King:

… power without love is reckless and abusive, and … love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.

Thank you.