Statement on Retirement



11 December 2014

Ladies and gentlemen, today I announce that I am retiring from parliament and political life.

It has been an immense privilege to serve in the Australian Senate representing the Australian Labor Party for over a quarter of a century.

I began working as a fulltime ALP official in late 1980 – so I’ve chalked up 35 years full-time politics. It certainly is time to go!

I have been a Senator now for 25 years, including serving as Leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1996 to 2004.

I had the honour of serving in two governments, and in five portfolios. I served in Cabinet under three Prime Ministers, and I leave as the last minister – the last one – who served in the life of the Hawke and Keating Governments.

I have participated in many important Senate debates – such as Mabo, the privatisation of Telstra, the GST, public service reform, the CPRS, Wik and a raft of national security legislation. In all these debates, the Senate has taken seriously its role and responsibility to review and scrutinize legislation. I do believe our nation has benefited from the Senate’s exercise of these powers in the best interests of the people of Australia.

As a Senator, I have had the good fortune to serve in the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party alongside many dedicated and hard-working men and women, who have devoted themselves to the welfare of the Australian people and the future of the Australian nation.

I believe, as I always have, that real improvements to people’s lives, to human rights, working conditions, health care and education, come through progressive policies turned into legislation by Labor Governments. I sincerely wish Bill Shorten and my caucus colleagues well in their future endeavours.

As a Minister, I was most ably supported by the Australian Public Service and the Australian Defence Force. Public servants may be a favourite whipping boy for some, but in my experience, with only very rare exceptions, the men and women of the public service, from top to bottom, are committed to the public and the national interest in each and everything they do.

Throughout my parliamentary career I have been supported by some of the most capable and loyal staff anyone could hope for – both in Canberra and in Sydney.

None of us in Parliament could do what we do without our staff, and I could not have hoped for a finer, more competent, more loyal staff. They have worked long hours without complaint, both in Government and Opposition; and they have stayed good-humoured and even-keeled at even the most difficult of times. They have been acknowledged widely as the best parliamentary staff this building has seen.

The Senate is a powerful upper house, without peer as a house of scrutiny and review. It has strong mechanisms to scrutinise legislation, and to examine government spending and administration.

As you know, throughout my time in the Senate I have taken a particular interest in transparency and accountability, which are the underpinnings of good government and good governance. Ensuring good governance is where the Senate is at its best.

I encourage all senators to protect and defend the Senate’s scrutiny powers and mechanisms into the future. As I leave the Senate and its legislative and committee work in the capable hands of my colleagues and successors, I will I can assure you, as a private citizen maintain a close interest in its work.

As I said earlier this year when I announced I would not be seeking preselection for another Senate term, I cannot stress enough my intense gratitude and thanks for the trust and support given to me over so many years by my party and its always loyal, and often much put-upon, members. Neville Wran nailed it when he once said that no one of us could ever claim to have given more to the Australian Labor Party than any of us had received from it. That is certainly true in my case. I owe the Labor Party everything.

I do intend to remain an active Labor Party member. Although I won’t be a delegate to the Party’s National Conference, you will find me attending branch meetings, and supporting Labor candidates in local, state and federal elections. And, as a rank-and-file member, I will continue to be a strong advocate for Party reform.

It is my intention to formally submit my resignation as a Senator for the State of NSW to the President of the Senate after Australia Day, but before the Senate sits again next year, and in accordance with the New South Wales ALP Rules, I have written to the NSW ALP Administrative Committee to seek its support for this course of action.

Normally, appointments to NSW Senate vacancies are made by joint sittings of the NSW Parliament but, under section 15 of the Australian Constitution, if the State Parliament is not in session, an initial appointment may be made by the State Governor on the advice of the Executive Council.

The NSW Parliament won’t be sitting again before the NSW Election, and the NSW Constitution Act 1902 provides that the State Parliament may not be prorogued until on or after Australia Day. Of course, the State Parliament remains in session till it is prorogued.

Once my Senate vacancy is notified to the Governor of NSW, it is my expectation that the Governor-in-Council would make an appointment to the vacancy after prorogation occurs, pending a joint sitting of the NSW Parliament after the State Election.

As a courtesy, I will of course as soon as possible, be informing Premier Baird, and the NSW Governor of my intentions.

Again I express my thanks to the Labor Party and all those who have given me such great support and assistance over so many years.

I have been extremely lucky to have such a long and fulfilling career in parliament – but it’s over, and it’s time to go.