Senator Jacinta Collins
22 June 2005
Senator JACINTA COLLINS (Victoria) (6.22 p.m.)-I am leaving this place with very mixed emotions but, before I dwell on some of these issues, I would like to express my thanks to the many people who have shared the last decade with me. My family has sustained me in many ways-and if I get emotional now, I can get through that stage and address the other matters I want to cover. Firstly, my parents have sustained me with confidence and optimism, nurtured in me from a very young age. Secondly, Daryl, James, Madison, Ben and other extended family and friends have sustained me with support in managing very challenging domestic and other circumstances. I have been provided with the scope to contribute to public life from the novel perspective of a woman with a young family. This has allowed me to achieve some changes in how we operate to make things easier for those who have followed. I regret that the work and family balance still leaves much to be desired. I thank my colleagues for their courtesy in allowing me to speak late in the day-another example of the challenge of trying to fit family with this working life. I want to particularly thank Janet-I know the frustration I have caused. The work and family balance leaves little time for anything other than work and family and contributes to the neglect of many other things. I am sure that I have neglected to acknowledge support and to thank many people, and I will attempt to do so now.
This year I celebrate 25 years of work in the Labor movement. After 15 years, in many ways, I never left the 'shoppies'. When I arrived here I could not have imagined how many waves of industrial relations assault we would face and fight together. To Joe de Bruyn, Ian Blandthorn and Michael Donovan: thank you for the strong and ongoing support. Thank you also to the many colleagues from all sides of the trade union movement with whom we have maintained a united force. My caucus colleagues have been more supportive than any external observer could ever perceive. In more recent times, the cooperation and assistance received to achieve and in my shadow portfolio in the lead-up to the last election was much appreciated-the individuals involved will know who I mean.
In particular, I would like to acknowledge Wayne Swan, my senior shadow, as a great guide and mentor, as was John Faulkner with the certain maritime incident inquiry. Other colleagues have provided good friendship in what can for some be a very lonely place. I have enjoyed the company and support of many Labor senators and staff. I wish well in the next phase of their lives my colleagues Peter Cook, Geoff Buckland, Nick Bolkus and Kay Denman, who are leaving with me at this time. Peter and Nick are leaving after very distinguished careers, but as I think these valedictories have highlighted, Geoff's and Kay's were shorter time but still significant contributions to our collective efforts.
Senate and parliamentary staff have assisted me with exemplary service. Best wishes to Anne Lynch in her future. Thank you also to the many other people who assist us in our work: the drivers, DOFA and other staff who have made my role easier in many ways. My own staff deserves special mention. Some have moved on to make their own contributions in public life. Others have moved on to work in new spheres. One, Christine Maxfield, has remained loyally with me for a decade. All have worked with me, sometimes in very fraught and stressful environments, with very high levels of energy, dedication and goodwill. Good luck also to Lizzie, Helen, Gabbie, Johnny and Nathan who are here today and who were with me at the end of my term.
It has been a privilege to represent the Victorian and the Australian people in this place across a broad range of public policy areas, not limited to the narrow, social conservative agenda with which I was often characterised in the media in the last election. Beyond euthanasia, the regulation of IVF, destructive research involving human embryos-which, I add, are all important areas with levels of public concern far greater than the 'conservative' label implies-I have worked here on many issues that I have recently reviewed in cleaning out my office. Issues included the workplace relations inquiry I adopted into outworkers, industry policy, the operations of the tax office, the insurance crisis, Indigenous education, the impact of the GST on employment and education, regional employment, vocational education, higher education, gifted education, a certain maritime incident inquiry-the evidence related to the sinking of the SIEV X, which probably has the most influence on my emotions during my time here-and of course the Scrafton evidence.
I want to concentrate on two of these areas. The future of work place relations policy is at a critical stage where, as Senator Lundy highlighted, I could not fail to reflect on the Senate's and crossbenchers now limited ability to affect outcomes. I am at least glad that I do not carry the burden of it being my position which delivered to John Howard power in the Senate. Perhaps I should thank George Brandis for that, but maybe someone else was responsible. Today John Howard will not even provide a non-core promise that people will not be disadvantaged by his new-found ability to introduce his lifelong industrial relations obsession. In Victoria, we have already lived this experiment under Jeff Kennett. We know from experience that the Howard promise of general growth in affluence will not materialise-and he knows this too.
I brought with me today the independent report of the Victorian Industrial Relations Taskforce, which analysed the effect of those very changes in Victoria, and I want to make mention of two aspects of that report. At page 14 it highlights this point:
While Victoria operated under a significantly deregulated labour market after 1992, there has been no significant increase in jobs growth levels or decrease in unemployment levels compared with the national average, or in relation to other states.
However, what it did achieve is highlighted in some of the evidence that came before the inquiry. This comment on page 93 summarises it best:
This submission concluded that the results of the research program found that, in the majority of cases examined, employees suffered substantial economic loss under Victorian employment agreements.
Substantial economic loss: we know that already from the Victorian experiment. What John Howard really wants is what did occur in Victoria until a Labor Victorian government forced the federal government to abolish the ghetto Jeff Kennett had created-a ghetto of a far greater number of low-wage jobs. This action by the Victorian Labor government is one achievement that I am proud of making a significant contribution to. John Howard remains equally unconcerned by the growing dispersion of family income and access to social services. You need only to see the criticism of the St Vincent de Paul Society, and the work that they do, to understand that.
The other area I want to concentrate on is asylum seekers. Recent events highlight the reason why, despite my election loss, I now have greater confidence and optimism in the Australian people than I did immediately after the Tampa incident in 2001. A shift in public sentiment on the treatment of asylum seekers has been most welcome. Similarly, I see signs that an aggressive welfare reform agenda may backlash on this government.
It is a pity that there was not a bit more ginger in the coalition ranks much sooner. The government's change of policy without consultation, while in caretaker mode before the 2001 election, about how we receive people arriving by boat seeking asylum, when we returned those vessels in unsafe circumstances to Indonesia, was, it seems now, a long, long time ago. Much pain and suffering might have been avoided sooner. People disappeared, people have died, and there has been much self harm and much impact on children.
Another incident where some ginger might have been fruitful earlier was in December 2002, when the government rejected Labor's amendment to remove children from detention, and instead introduced new arrangements that forcibly separated men and older boys from their families. There remain so many issues unresolved in this area. For instance, the judicial inquiry needed into the sinking of SIEV X. And yet, some of our accountability mechanisms are likely to be diminished. I have enjoyed Senate estimates in my time here; people sometimes suggested I was having far too much of a good time.
Like Peter Cook, I want to conclude by giving my thanks to the Australian Labor Party, its members and various representatives that I have worked with. My loss was not the result of an ALP hierarchy miscalculation, as was suggested by Senator Boswell, but rather a low base ALP vote and a high Liberal base vote in Victoria. I certainly have not taken it personally. For me, the Labor Party, much like the trade union movement, is a broad church. People share a commitment to social justice from various angles. In my case, it is from Christian social principles; for many others it is from a secular base. We share a concern to promote social justice within a framework of consensus, cooperation and tolerance.
This contrasts with the Howard government's approach of promoting division; wedges, which have reached a new level of meaning; and individualism. John Howard has been far too successful to date in creating a culture of division, but I am confident that the Labor Party can rebuild at a federal level and that there is scope for the Australian public to approach future reforms in a much fairer and more compassionate way. We need to strive to better promote the common good both internally within the Labor Party and in the policies we advocate.
I will continue to share this task after what will be, in some ways, a very welcome period of renewal. Good luck to my colleagues who remain. I welcome the new senators, and in particular Annette Hurley, who I am sure will make a significant contribution. May Australia's parliamentary democracy prevail.