Speech to Declaration of the Victorian Senate Results

I am pleased and honoured to be returned as a Senator for Victoria, and congratulate the other senators declared elected.

Despite public opinion to the contrary, and perhaps experience, I still regard politics as a noble calling.

Since I was first elected in 1993, I have seen 155 senators come and go, four of them twice: Jacinta Collins, Louise Pratt, Don Farrell and Sandy MacDonald.

Since Federation, there have been 580 senators.

The rate of turnover has accelerated. In the last Parliament, the 44th, 45 per cent of senators had less than six years’ experience.

It is important to remember, in a country that claims not to value experience, that there is always more to learn.

As is now expected in Senate polls, there were many candidates – 116 in this state.

 

It is a sign of a healthy democracy that so many people can contest an election without confusing or overwhelming most voters, and that the count can proceed without significant obstacles.

The AEC has had its critics in recent years, but I am grateful to the commission’s state manager for Victoria, Jeff Pope, and his team for their hard work and professionalism, and I am sure the other senators and candidates are too.

I and the other ALP senators and candidates are also grateful to the Victorian branch of our party for its endorsement, to the trade union movement, and to the thousands of volunteers who worked so hard in support of our campaigns.

I especially want to thank our leader, Bill Shorten, who displayed great courage and tenacity throughout the campaign, as he did in the previous Parliament.

Bill’s bold commitment to traditional Labor values has increased our representation to a point at which government will be within our grasp at the next election, whenever it may be.

Today we know the make-up of the Senate chamber in the 45th Parliament.

The Senate has a vital role to play in holding governments accountable, and in defending the living standards and civil and industrial rights of all Australians.

The new Senate must take those responsibilities very seriously.

The Government called a double-dissolution election in the hope that it would give them a pliant upper house.

They wanted to clear out what was perceived to be an unruly cross bench, which is why they were so keen to change the method of voting for the Senate.

And they were assisted in making that change by the Australian Greens.

The Greens had been beneficiaries of the previous system, but did not want other small parties to reap the same benefit.

It is clear, however, that the Government will not get the Senate it wanted.

The smaller quotas required for election in a double dissolution have produced another chamber in which there is no majority party or alliance of parties.

The voting changes have not eliminated the cross bench, they have merely given it an enlarged composition.

In some respects it is a more alarming composition than the one we had.

There will be no One Nation senator in Victoria, but there will be four from other states.

One Nation’s return to the national political scene has surprised some people. It should not have.

In Australia, as in other Western democracies, this is a time of anxiety and uncertainty.

It is a time when many people do not share fully in the gains from the rapid technological change that is reshaping the global economy.

They experience those changes as a threat to their jobs, and to their ability to support their families.

Those insecurities have been compounded by the continuing aftershocks of the Global Financial Crisis, or, as it is called in other countries, the Great Recession.

There are growing inequalities of wealth and power, which only increase the resentments of those who feel excluded.

The Prime Minister’s glib talk about there never having been a more time to be Australia did not resonate with the experience of the majority of Australians.

Many people feel vulnerable, not excited, and people who feel vulnerable in this way become targets for fringe political movements that try to make minorities into scapegoats.

These movements stir up racism and xenophobia.

If mainstream political parties do not respond to the real causes of the present anxiety, the fringe movements start to swell and increase their representation.

At the centre of this social anxiety is job insecurity – and in Australia that has largely stemmed from the destruction of manufacturing. That is why industry policy is so important.

The anxiety allows the fringe movements to portray themselves as alternatives to mistrusted political insiders and elites.

We have seen it with Donald Trump’s seizure of the Republican Party in the US, with the Brexit vote in the UK, and with the increasing electoral strength of far-right parties in France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Poland.

We have seen it before in Australia, with the first appearance of One Nation.

Now they having a second coming.

This is a challenge that other parties must take seriously.

We should never tolerate racism and xenophobia in this pluralist, multicultural society.

But we must go further.

We must tackle the root causes of the alienation that so many people experience.

As legislators, we must ensure that people are not excluded from full participation in society.

If the 45th Parliament does not have the composition the Turnbull Government was expecting – in the House as well as the Senate – it is because the Government has done nothing to allay the fears of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians.

The Turnbull Government has survived, with the thinnest of margins.

But the Turnbull project, of a reborn, re-energised government commanding strong public support under a new leader, has failed.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.