Valedictory Speech: Senator Sue Boyce (Lib-Qld)

Senator Sue Boyce has delivered her valedictory speech to the Senate, bringing to an end her 7-year parliamentary career.


Boyce, a Liberal from Queensland, was first appointed to the Senate in 2007 to replace Santo Santoro, who had resigned over undeclared shareholdings. She was elected to a full term at the 2007 election.

Boyce developed a reputation as a moderate Liberal. On three occasions, she crossed the floor to vote against her party. The most notable of these was her support for the Rudd government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in 2009.

Following Boyce’s speech and valedictory speeches by John Hogg and Alan Eggleston, a number of senators spoke about the three senators.

  • Listen to Boyce’s speech (29m – transcript below)
  • Watch Boyce’ speech (29m)
  • Listen to Senator Eric Abetz – Liberal (12m)
  • Listen to Senator Penny Wong – ALP (11m)
  • Listen to Senator George Brandis – Liberal (6m)
  • Listen to Senator David Johnston – Liberal (3m)
  • Listen to Senator Ian Macdonald – Liberal (3m)
  • Listen to Senator Simon Birmingham – Liberal (1m)
  • Listen to Senator Chris Back – Liberal (2m)

Hansard transcript of Senator Sue Boyce’s valedictory speech


Senator BOYCE (Queensland) (17:40): I was thinking perhaps I could simply say ‘ditto’ to 80 per cent, at least, of that and sit down—but I am not going to. I want to thank all the members of the then Queensland Liberal Party who gave me the extraordinary opportunity and the great honour of being a Queensland Senator for the past seven years. I regret that many of those people are no longer involved in party politics, but I want to sincerely acknowledge those who were there at the beginning and who are with me again tonight at the end. Thank you.

I would also like to acknowledge the members of my new party, the LNP. It is a matter of record that I was opposed to the merger of the Nationals and the Liberals in Queensland in 2008, but our stunning victory in the Queensland state election of 2012, after spending most of the previous 23 years in opposition, as well as our contribution to the Abbott government victory last year, demonstrates that I was wrong.

In the past few months I have been asked numerous times if, as a moderate and a feminist, I am concerned about our party’s perceived move to the right. Yes, I am concerned—but I am also hopeful. I am hopeful that debates about important issues such as same-sex marriage and responses to climate change will continue to be conducted robustly, but respectfully, within our party. I also expect that pragmatism will ultimately triumph. Australians will continue to elect governments of the centre right—and, hopefully less often, of the centre left—so any general move too far to the right would make us unelectable.

Recently I came across a letter from the former Howard government minister and Senator John Herron AO, congratulating me on being preselected to the 2004 Senate ticket. He ends the letter by saying:

“I wish you well in your political career. It is worth pursuing and the only advice I can give you is that you should enjoy every moment of it. It will be exhilarating, frustrating and exhausting but well worthwhile.”

He was absolutely right.

I still remember the sense of honour and grave responsibility I felt when I learnt that I was being sworn in as Australia’s 515th senator ever; that is over the past 106 years. I still feel that sense of responsibility and honour. I am an accidental politician. When I stood in 2004 and was preselected to the ‘unwinnable’ fourth spot on the Senate ticket, I was president of the Liberal Women’s Council. I perceived my role as a flag-bearer for women of the Queensland Liberal Party. I thought I was mentoring other, younger women to have the opportunity to be Queensland Liberal senators in the medium-term future—certainly not before 2010 or 2013. But when then Senator Santo Santoro resigned suddenly, I was put in the position of putting up or shutting up—and I decided to put up. I won a long preselection from nine other candidates, all male. I want to acknowledge my Queensland senatorial colleagues and running mates over two elections, Senators Ian Macdonald, George Brandis and Brett Mason, for the huge amount of support and advice they gave me during that campaign.

I am only the fourth woman senator from Queensland on our side of politics, ever, but the company is august. It includes the late Dame Annabelle Rankin, Mrs Kathy Martin Sullivan AM and Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen.

Backbench senators have an enormous amount of freedom as to where they concentrate their policy energies. It is possible to develop expertise and credibility, to influence policy and to support and promote recognition on almost any issue on the national agenda—and I have absolutely revelled in that freedom. Over the last past seven years I have used my maiden speech as though it were a set of key performance indicators to guide and to assess my work as a senator. In that first speech I raised issues about small and family businesses and red tape, about the changing face of Australian manufacturing, about private enterprise, about outdated attitudes to people with a disability, about the need for more women in politics and about modernising our parliamentary practices—I just have to say ditto pretty much to everything you said on that topic, Mr President.

With the advent of the Abbott government we are now beginning to see the development of a grown-up Australia: a country where the government provides a functional, operating environment for families and for businesses, with a support net for individuals who may need it, and then gets out of the way so people can develop and build their lives as they see fit.

So I move on to my self-assessed KPI scores. On family and small business, I am awarding a score of eight out of 10. As Deputy Chair of the Corporations and Financial Services Committee I instigated an inquiry into family business in Australia, its needs and the impediments to its growth and succession planning. Family business is a massive and critical sector of our economy, but the lack of focus on the sector by Treasury and other government departments was frightening. Now we have, for the first time, a Minister for Small Business as part of cabinet, the development of a Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, the inclusion of family business on the ministerial advisory council and a government that will promptly pay bills under $200,000 to small businesses by credit or debit card.

On red tape reduction, I gave a score of five out of 10. The government has already held the first of two annual repeal days in parliament and put through an omnibus bill designed to repeal almost 10,000 pieces of legislation and regulations. Unfortunately, that has only so far passed through the House of Representatives. The objective is to save Australian business, including not-for-profits, $1 billion a year. I would have given a higher score than the five out of 10 if that bill had gone through the Senate by now.

On disability, I scored six out of 10. The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a fantastic start. It was unthinkable even seven years ago. But there is more—much, much more—to do. It needs to be happening in inclusive education, in improving the appalling employment statistics for people with a disability and in innovative housing for people with a disability. We have moved a long way from seeing people with a disability as objects of charity to now just seeing them as another subset of the community. We have a bit further to go before the economic benefits of a sensibly resourced NDIS are properly appreciated. The Productivity Commission estimated that the NDIS, by enabling many people with a disability and their paid and unpaid carers to join the workforce, would add one per cent to GDP. In my first speech to the Senate in 2007, I said in relation to disability that any time we send ‘special’ people to ‘special’ places to do ‘special’ things we make vulnerable people more vulnerable. Not everyone has understood that message yet, in my view. Through my involvement with disability I have also become involved with many other marginalised groups, and I have spoken about some of those in this chamber and tried to support them outside this chamber. I am thinking particularly of two that I will mention today: the Tamil and Hazara communities in Queensland who desperately need our support and help.

Women in politics—now, that is where I scored one out of 10. There is only, as we know, one woman in the Abbott government: the wonderful Minister Julie Bishop. There are only four LNP women in the House of Representatives, and two of them are over here today—thank you for being here. Once I leave on 30 June there will be no LNP women in the Senate. So I figure I have failed. But so, I think, has our party at both the state and the federal level. It is obvious that if we want more women in cabinet we need more women in parliament. The current 22 per cent figure is just not good enough. Improving this pathetic figure must be the job of every party member and every party employee.

On modernising parliament, Mr President, I awarded a score of three out of 10—and you said so much more eloquently some of the things that I was intending to say. There has been a small increase since I have been here in the use of videoconferencing and the like. But, in my experience, the technology that we use here is not as reliable as that used by business 20 years ago. There have been changes to some of the arcane practices of the Senate, but sitting hours still seem to be predicated on MPs having a support person—read ‘spouse’—to do washing and shopping and the like and on having very, very flexible child care. Not all of us have that. On the plus side, we do not have—and I hope, Mr President, that you and your successors will agree with this—and hopefully we never will have, PowerPoint presentations in the chamber!

Much of my satisfaction in the Senate has come from the work of the Community Affairs Committee, which I now chair. The committee oversights the departments of health, social services and human services—an enormous chunk of government spending. I would especially like to acknowledge my fellow committee members Senator Claire Moore and Senator Rachel Siewert, who were there before I arrived and will be there after I leave. I would also like to acknowledge former senator Gary Humphries, a former chair of the committee, who is in the gallery today, and the late Senator Judith Adams, whose background as a rural midwife made her an indefatigable fighter for the health needs of rural Australia.

Inquiries I have instigated or supported through the Community Affairs Committee have fed into improvements or new policy on palliative care, disability in general and the NDIS and special disability trusts in particular, mental health and suicide, the coerced sterilisation of people with a disability and of young intersex people, the treatment of people with dementia, paid parental leave, hearing health, the supply of health professionals and medical services into rural Australia, and PATS, the patient assisted travel schemes—a great favourite of Judith Adams. The committee has been told that our inquiry into the sterilisation of young intersex people in fact is a world first and is being used globally as a model.

Party solidarity is an interesting beast. I really do not have much time for those MPs on all sides who support the party—read ‘leader’s’—line no matter what in the hope of a promotion. I have the utmost respect for those who thoughtfully put their own views in the party room and shut up outside the party room. I have been one of those on most occasions. I have occasionally been one of those who speaks and acts outside the party room when I cannot in good conscience support it. I have crossed the floor only three times, although it does seem like more. I crossed once on the CPRS emissions trading scheme along with former Senator—and someone I regard as a mentor—Judith Troeth and crossed the floor twice on marriage equality bills. I was not prepared for how I felt when it came to actually physically crossing the floor. It is lonely; and, no matter how strong your conviction in the correctness of your stance, there is a small part of you that feels disloyal to your colleagues, to your party and to the fragile fabric that unites us.

One thing that I learnt very early in my parliamentary career is that Hansard does not record sarcasm. It is still something I have to remind myself about a lot; so, just for the record: every time it appears from my comments that I really did think that a Labor government proposal was fantastic or wonderful, I was being sarcastic!

I also learnt very early that the media—and I am a former journalist—do not acknowledge sarcasm when it suits them. Very early in my career here I was asked at the doors what I would do with a pay rise that MPs were to receive. I did not even know we were getting a pay rise nor its quantum, and I responded that I would use the increase ‘to buy pearls to cast before the deserving poor.’ This was actually meant to be translated as, ‘Bugger off, it’s none of your business,’ but it was not, and I spent a lot of time explaining, apologising and copping my own share of sarcastic comments as a result.

The topics of some Senate inquiries can seem very arcane, and an inquiry in 2010 revisiting the Torres Strait Treaty between PNG and Australia may seem like one of those, but I have always had an affinity with the Torres Strait since hearing stories as a child of my great-grandfather Alfred Morey, who owned pearling luggers based out of Thursday Island before World War II. Most Australians—even most Queenslanders—seem to forget that Cape York may be the top of the mainland but it is definitely not the northernmost part of Australia. Boigu, our northernmost island, is another 140 kays or so north and it is less than six kilometres from PNG.

I have tried to visit the Torres Strait most years that I have been a senator and I will certainly be returning as a civilian, but that 2010 Torres Strait Treaty inquiry came up again just a few weeks ago in Port Hedland of all places during another inquiry by the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia. Our guide from the Port Hedland Harbour Authority commented that he had met me during the Torres Strait inquiry when he worked for Customs. ‘As a matter of fact,’ he said, ‘That’s how I met my wife. I was looking after the visit for Customs, and she’d been hired by the Torres Strait Regional Authority to look after their side of it. We had to spend a lot of time together, and it just went on from there.’ I was just thinking, ‘What a lovely story,’ when Senator Ian Macdonald chimed in, ‘Most productive thing I’ve ever heard come out of a Senate inquiry.’ I think he was joking!

Thank you to those who have worked for me over the past seven years, especially my current staff, who are all here tonight: Mark Yore, Cathy Martin, Jacqui Donegan, Simone Stark, Harrison Smith, Martine Whitton, and Peter von Einem. I’d like to single out two particular people from my staff: Cathy Martin and Mark Yore. I have just offered Cathy her third job working with me—firstly at the Down Syndrome Association of Queensland, currently as my PA and in the future as my part-time PA whilst she expands her own business. Cathy keeps me sane. She does an extraordinary job of making me appear to be organised and offering intelligent wisdom when I really need it.

And then, of course, for those from Queensland we have Mark Yore, who has been on my staff since 2007—electoral statistician extraordinaire, feedback king and a ferocious and intelligent campaigner. I joked that Mark and the Queensland Electoral Commissioner, Ms Anne Bright, probably had each other’s home phone numbers—to subsequently discover that that actually was not a joke. They do have each other’s home phone numbers!

Apart from my staff, I would also like to thank all the many, many other people who have kept me functioning in the past seven years. Mr President, you gave us a comprehensive list of those. From Dr Rosemary Laing and her staff to Mr Jiri Martinek in Brisbane and his staff through to Peter and Ian and the Comcar drivers: thank you very much.

Bizarrely, one of the things I may be remembered for in this place is bringing my handbag into the chamber. I have it with me now. I must admit it never occurred to me not to bring my handbag into this chamber; and, trained observer that I am, I did not notice that I was the only person who did until someone pointed it out to me. I had reasoned that I wanted to have my phone, my pager, some cash, a pen, my reading glasses and, for five of the seven years that I was here, my cigarettes and lighter with me.

Given that I did not wear suits with many pockets—are we getting some sort of an echo of some of the issues that perhaps need modernising around here?—I thought a handbag was an excellent receptacle for said items, and I still do. But it was so unusual. The reports of my first crossing of the floor, in support of the CPRS, included the fact that Senator Boyce was ‘carrying her handbag’ as she crossed the floor—an absolutely fascinating addition to the sum total of human knowledge, I would have thought.

The mention of my smoking brings me to a matter that I have thought long and hard about including. When I have been asked why I did not stand for a second term, I have responded in terms of my age: ‘I’ll be 69 in another six years and I want to spend time with my family.’ Both are absolutely true. But my decision not to renominate in November 2012 was greatly influenced by being diagnosed, in July 2012, with emphysema. It is absolutely true that I want to spend more time with my family, but I want to do it now whilst I am still an active and relatively fit mother and grandmother and not wait till I am ‘granny with the oxygen cyclinder’.

And for those here, who, out of a sense of caring, have nagged me ceaselessly and futilely about smoking: you are absolutely right. I know all the dangers and the stupidity of smoking. I recently fell off the non-smoking wagon after 11 months, but I will jump back on it just as soon as I get away from the stress of all that nagging!

I am retiring from the Senate but not retiring. I am returning to my role as chair of our family manufacturing company in Brisbane, Everhard Industries. I have also accepted Minister Kevin Andrews’ invitation to remain involved in the working group overseeing the implementation of policies and programs to support people affected by forced adoptions.

I will be working on access to justice issues for people with a cognitive impairment, both perpetrators and victims; on the oft-ignored issue of the extraordinary level of violence experienced by women with a disability; and on further raising the profile of family business, including agribusiness, and strengthening their voice, our voice, my voice to policymakers.

Women’s representation in politics and women’s financial literacy continue to be very important to me and I am planning some practical measures—I hope—to assist with both.

I am intending to continue the three annual postsecondary scholarships that I have developed—one for an Aboriginal woman, one for a Torres Strait Islander woman and one for a woman with a disability.

But, most importantly, I will be spending time with my family, my children Bede, Gina and Joanna and their families, who really do know just how exhausting and frustrating I have sometimes found my political career but also how exhilarating and satisfying I have found it. Thank you very much to Bede and Joanna, who are with us tonight. My middle child, Gina, is extremely round at the moment and not really up to flying.

Bede and Gina have both married and had children whilst I have been a senator. So I am the proud grandmother of three extraordinarily beautiful and clever little girls, with another equally beautiful and clever grandchild expected in August. We will have to compare dates later, Mr President!

Recently, Joanna said to me, ‘I can’t wait till you retire, Mum, and we can do fun things.’ It has been a frustrating, exhausting, exhilarating, satisfying seven years. But I also cannot wait, Jo, until we can do fun things. Thank you.


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