Yesterday afternoon Senator Julian McGauran presented his valedictory speech to the Senate:
McGauran: Mr President, I ask for the suspension of standing order 187—speeches not to be read!
The President: Proceed, Senator McGauran. I am looking forward to your speech.
McGauran: Mr President and Senators, now that my hour has come to give my final speech in parliament, some 24 years from when I gave my maiden speech in Old Parliament House, now a museum of politics past, I can do no better than to repeat what all speakers say at their valedictory: it has been an honour.
With all its ebbs and flows, the pressing on every human emotion, the responsibility, tension, exhaustion and exuberance that come with politics, I can honestly say I have never driven up Commonwealth Avenue to Parliament House and not felt a buzz, or a sense of that honour. I feel it as much today, on my last day, as I did on my first day. Indeed, I recall, on my very first day, entering King’s Hall of Old Parliament House, very early in the morning, and the first person I saw was Bob Hawke, the Prime Minister.
He recognised me, knowing the publicity that surrounded my defeating—with DLP preferences—the former and notorious communist John Halfpenny. He propped and came toward me with a big smile and ‘Gooday.’ His expression said it all: better you than Halfpenny.
That was my first lesson in Labor’s infamous factional wars. I thought I was off to a good start. But, not long after, Labor and the media were giving me hell for placing sponges over badly wired and overly noisy bells in the office. Unfortunately, my act coincided with me missing a division.
I will miss politics and I will miss public life and all its attractions and responsibilities. I first became a public official when elected to the Melbourne city council in 1985 and then to the Senate in 1987, so I have a few habits to kick and a few realities to face outside politics. However I consider myself very fortunate and am excited to have a profession to go to post politics.
Everyone who enters this place considers their time seminal in the nation’s history. And they are right. Every point of time is crucial in our nation’s history and direction. I am amazed at how each new parliament brings its own unique political intrigue, drama and history. In short, when you think you have seen it all in parliament, it has a way of surpassing itself.
Like those of many, my politics and beliefs were predominately shaped by the Cold War era. It is hard now to imagine the great divisions in the world at the time: physical—East versus West; philosophical—Marxism versus capitalism; and moral—religion versus atheism. And always hovering over this world of division was the black cloud of nuclear war and mutual destruction.
Yet by 1990 it had all but gone with the wind. When the Berlin Wall came down they said it was ‘the end of history,’ and ‘History starts anew’. How very true. The debates in this place changed; moods, beliefs—all changed. It is not too dramatic to say that it was the dawning of a new world. And Australia was part of all that change.
I mention this as I recall seeing and feeling that change sweep through the Senate. In September 1989, I made a speech in the Senate on the world-changing events originating in Poland. And I boldly predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union—just weeks before the monumental collapse of the Berlin Wall. Following the speech I recall sitting down and one of my colleagues quizzically asking, ‘What was that all about?’ I guess I was a little vague about the deeper meaning of what I was saying, but I did it for a particular reason. Well, now I have the courage to say what I did not then. So where I said ‘good fortune’ in that speech, I meant miracle. I was meaning in the speech what we Catholics sensed at the time: the fulfilment of the promises of the apparitions of Fatima in 1917.
Now that half the world was free from communist dictatorship, the next revolution could be ushered in: globalisation. In retrospect, it was an obvious progression post Cold War. The next decade of the nineties was absorbed by this economic and social revolution. It may be described as an uninteresting economics-obsessed era, but in truth it changed the world for the good by lifting general standards of living of countries and many billions of people.
Australia, and thus this parliament, was without doubt at the forefront of this massive change and restructure. Once competition policy was accepted by the major parties, economic rationalism became a flood finding its level. It is now hard to contemplate just how much governments owned—banks, airlines, airports, railways, telecommunications and so on.
I never minded the privatisations at all, but I was never too keen when it turned to deregulation of the rural sector like the wool floor price, dairy deregulation or wheat deregulation. I crossed the floor on several occasions to resist change—at least no change without healthy compensation; I was a good National in that respect.
So it was the era in parliament dominated by liberal economics which in turn shaped the mores of our liberal democratic society, and it all sat well with me. Pity the poor old Left as they watched their every belief collapse with the Berlin Wall then be washed away by a tsunami of economic rationalism. Of course, globalisation is still with us and has now become globalisation the greater or mark 2, the telecommunications revolution.
The new millennium, the 2000s, brought its own great global challenges and consequently involved all who served in this parliament and indeed who serve today. I kicked off the new millennium by staring down the alarmists of the Y2K bug who said planes would drop out of the sky on New Year’s Day. I took a flight to South America on New Year’s Eve. There were about 20 people on the jumbo flight. So you see I have always been a sceptic, from the hole in the ozone layer to the rising seas. The last alarmist to get it right was Noah.
More than anything else it was the attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September that defines this decade of politics. Its shock and horror led to the war on terror, which goes on. Every country had to reignite their security agencies and toughen the terror laws to the point of unprecedented intrusiveness. We were fighting for all our old values again and this parliament was at the vanguard of that fight. Just consider the significance and courage—it was Australia that triggered the ANZUS Treaty to be the first ally by America’s side when under attack.
The war on terror was brought to Australia’s doorstep on 12 October 2002 when 88 Australians were killed in the Bali bombings. The memorial service held for the families of the victims in the Great Hall of Parliament House was the saddest I have ever attended as a senator. Looking into the faces of those Australian families I gained a real sense of how indiscriminate this terrorist attack was. I have spoken many times in this place on the war on terror, be it the twin towers attack, Iraq, Afghanistan or the terrorist laws. I am proud and grateful that we the parliament unflinchingly went after those who sought to kill Australians and destroy our way of life. It was our responsibility as elected officials and we did it.
I believe the decade-long war on terror has forced us to reaffirm our heritage and belief in Western civilisation, culture and values. It is a culture to be admired and defended. It is truly one of expressing the highest regard for humans rights, religious beliefs, enterprise, art and architecture.
All this flows from our liberal democracy. I have no doubt the democratic world’s affirmation of its values due to the war on terror and the forced democratisation of Iraq has had a cascading effect on all the uprisings in the Arab world, now termed the Arab Spring. Tragically, it looks to be a bloody and long affair—perhaps a decade—but there can be no turning back now.
I am fortunate to have been in parliament over those three tide-turning decades. I am sure the next three decades will be just as momentous and requiring equal strength of convictions. I am not a believer in the adage that you come into parliament full of ideals which are eventually knocked out of you. There is no doubt our ideals are greatly challenged—and those challenges usually come under the guise of raw political advantage—but I think ultimately you hold onto those ideals. The very core of my raison d’etre, or reason to be, in office is buried in a few lines of my maiden speech.
While the names I mention are long passed, the principle still stands and has stood for every parliament to which I have belonged. I said in my maiden speech:
… I reject the philosophy espoused by so many … in public office and best exemplified by Professor Manning Clark, who, when speaking of the late Justice Lionel Murphy, said:
… there was a man in Australia who believed passionately that the morality of Judaeo Christianity had ceased to be relevant. I see Lionel Murphy as a man who in that context strove to end the domination of God over human beings …
I then said:
I say again that I not only reject this view but stand against it.
You see in essence for me this was a declaration of war against Christian values in public life. It is for this reason that politics was always personal to me; therefore, the conscience votes in parliament allowed me the freedom to express the ideals that initially drew me to public life.
Though I was on the losing end of many votes, I cherished the opportunity to exercise these soul felt beliefs. It should not then surprise people that the most disappointing moment in parliament for me was on a conscience issue. It could be seen by others as a small and inconsequential moment but for me never did my heart sink so low in this place when at a late hour in an empty public gallery I watched the House of Representatives debate the introduction of the human cloning and human embryo research bill.
Gallantly a certain member, who was against the bill but knew the bill would be passed, sought to salvage just one aspect of human dignity from its consequences. His amendment was to stop the use of an aborted baby girl’s immature eggs to create experimental embryos. The very instant that that member sat down literally the charge to defeat this amendment was led by Ms Julia Gillard. I was chilled by the adamant tone and the agitated demeanour against such a decent proposal as that.
Serving in government—the Holy Grail of politics—has been the highlight of my career. It was a revelation to see firsthand how challenging it is to run a country. To do so you must have a cornerstone philosophy. It matters in politics.
Proudly, the coalition’s philosophy never was just words in a glossy brochure but was implemented in government. One of our finest hours and an issue close to my heart was the sending of peacekeeping troops into a war-torn East Timor to oversee the fragile election for independence. It was a decision that encapsulated courage, compassion and the power of government—a potent combination. I spoke many times over many years in this parliament on the East Timor issue against the tide of opinion. The chain of events that led to East Timor’s freedom was as likely as ‘a camel passing through the eye of a needle’, but it happened and a very good government was ready, alert and competent to rise to the occasion. Australia’s international standing was greatly lifted by the competency of our action.
While East Timor’s freedom is an enduring achievement for us to look back on, there were many exciting and gratifying moments and achievements, which we are all part of in government and even in opposition. Suffice to say, the coalition government was remarkable to work in. It was as disciplined as you will get. It had good comradeship, which is crucial for the day-to-day running of a government. It was mostly positive and always drove the national agenda and reforms. Equally, it was inclusive of every single member. And the results were good. Consider but one result: zero net debt. I am still astonished by that figure. It took discipline and conviction.
One of the privileges of the position of senator, as you all well know, is the opportunity to meet an array of people and to attend a great variety of functions and events. If it were at all possible to choose one, I would say the greatest event I attended was the burial of the unknown soldier.
From his unmarked grave on the Western Front in France to his final resting place at the National War Memorial, the formalities, the all-night vigil and the ceremonies were of the highest calibre. It truly symbolised a nation grateful to this fallen solider and to all fallen soldiers. I could not help but think, as the military funeral procession made its way up Anzac Parade, that in fact this was an answer to a mother’s aching prayer, so long ago, for the finding and return of her son to his homeland—Australia.
One of the important lessons I have learned in politics is that your great personal victories soon become passe and your mistakes do not seem so big over time. It seems to be a very small lesson to learn, but it really is a big step in perfecting the art of politics—though I suspect no-one, to this day, has ever perfected that art.
Through the victories and mistakes, it was a bonus to have my brother Peter with me in the parliament. I confess I knew a little more about the goings on in cabinet than your average backbencher. We were very close. In fact, I was too loyal to him. I recall defending Peter against calls to resign his ministry. It was grand final weekend for the football codes and I boasted to a mass of cameras outside the Senate doors: ‘I’m backing St Kilda on Saturday, Canterbury on Sunday and McGauran on Monday.’ St Kilda lost on Saturday, Canterbury lost on Sunday and McGauran resigned on Monday. And did Labor sure rub it in! Though Peter was soon reinstated to his ministry, I cut back on my doorstops.
Earlier this year I attended the funeral of a wonderful National Party identity and Mallee man. It was a gathering of the political clan. All the Victorian Nationals were incredibly warm towards me when, frankly, they did not have to be, as I never doubted my actions to join the Liberal Party would be taken hard. I am so grateful that this wound between friends is healed. To my Liberal Party colleagues, thank you for accepting me at such short notice! I have not regretted a moment. I fully sensed the responsibility and great history of the Liberal Party at the moments of leadership ballots because of their repercussions in the nation. We were choosing a potential Prime Minister.
I suppose that just leaves the Labor Party. When last in government, during the Hawke years, one of your ministers was extremely instrumental in helping me, at a mother’s request, rescue a very young girl who had been taken overseas and into a sinister cult. It required international connections and government funding. I learnt early on that, when it really counts, this is how government ministers and oppositions will work together. In short: don’t burn all your bridges. It was a very valuable lesson early in my career.
I thank the staff of the Senate, some of whom have come up from Old Parliament House. Thank you to the clerks past and present. I have been a beneficiary of your skills. I recall what was a very bad week for me when I was caught on camera giving my opponents the one-fingered salute. The Clerk’s advice to the President was that because I had used the wrong finger, the index finger, the gesture could be ruled ‘unseemly but not obscene’, so I was able to avoid a formal censure of the Senate. What a brilliant defence—what a get-out! Thank you to the clerks.
I greatly thank the people of Victoria, who elected me to represent them—four out of five times. I thank my past staff for their support and my present staff, who all have been with me well over 10 years: Jennifer McBride, Rachel Campbell and Jodie Naismith. A heartfelt thank you for your long and loyal service but, most of all, your integrity.
I thank dearly my beloved parents, my brothers and my sisters—a family in whom I am truly blessed.
In conclusion, it might surprise you that I recently performed as an extra for Opera Australia’s season of The Pearl Fishers—it is true. Opera is like a day in parliament: love, lust, murder and betrayal, but all in song. That is the thrill of politics: it is an opera. I hope I played it well. So now I leave the stage and the curtain must fall.