Senator Lin Thorp (ALP-Tas) – Valedictory Speech

Lin Thorp was a Tasmanian ALP senator for two years from June 2012.

Thorp

She was appointed to fill a casual vacancy created by the retirement of Senator Nick Sherry. She failed to win re-election at the 2013 federal election. Her position was effectively taken by the Palmer United Party’s Jacqui Lambie.

Prior to serving in the Senate, Thorp was the member for Rumney in the Tasmanian Legislative Council from 1999 until her defeat in 2011. She was a minister in the Tasmanian government between 2008 and 2011, and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council from 2006 until 2011.

Thorp was one of four Labor senators who gave valedictory speeches on June 24, 2014.

Thorp gave her valedictory speech to the Senate on June 24, 2014. Three other ALP senators defeated at the election – Mehmet Tillem, Louise Pratt and Ursula Stephens – also spoke. After their speeches, eight of their colleagues paid personal tributes.

  • Listen to Thorp’s speech (22m)
  • Watch Thorp’s speech (22m)
  • Listen to Senator Eric Abetz – Lib-Tas (7m)
  • Listen to Senator Penny Wong – ALP-SA (12m)
  • Listen to Senator Nigel Scullion – CLP-NT (5m)
  • Listen to Senator Helen Polley – ALP-Tas (3m)
  • Listen to Senator Carol Brown – ALP-Tas (13m)
  • Listen to Senator Anne Urquhart – ALP-Tas (6m)
  • Listen to Senator Helen Kroger – Lib-Vic (3m)
  • Listen to Senator Dean Smith – Lib-WA (3m)

Hansard transcript of Senator Lin Thorp’s valedictory speech to the Senate.

Thorp

Senator THORP (Tasmania) (16:41): I start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered, the Ngunnawal and Ngambi people, and pay my respects to their elders past and present. I would like to thank the chamber for the opportunity today to rise during my last few days in this place and put on the record my appreciation for the incredible opportunity I have been afforded in being a senator for Tasmania.

I entered the Senate a short two years ago. I say short because the time has flown—as I have flown more times than I care to remember. As senators would be aware, I came here to serve the remainder of the term of the highly-respected Nick Sherry. I was very proud and pleased that I won that privilege as a result of a ballot of the rank-and-file members in which I received 89 per cent of the vote. I sincerely hope I have warranted the trust that they put in me.

The good men and women of the Australian Labor Party in general, and my state in particular, have very clear expectations of their elected representatives. They expect hard work, dedication to the principles of our party, social justice and equity. At this point in our history, fighting for social justice and equity has never been more vital. This budget we are dealing with here in this place attacks the very fabric of the Australian social contract—the contract that has long formed the backbone of our national identity. If it passes, I am afraid we will see the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. This is not the Australia I know and it is not the Australia I want future generations to grow up in, but in a cruel and ironic way it may be exactly what Australians need to remind us that nothing is a given and that politics actually matter.

I believe this government has severely underestimated the intelligence of the Australian people and the unwillingness of the Australian people to blindly believe what they are told and to meekly accept what is offered in this place. Again, ironically, it may be this budget that galvanises people to mobilise and fight for the Australia they want for the future. We need to remember that the principles of equality, fairness, transparency, accountability and a fair go that we hold dear are stitched together by individual choices that we need to make again, just as they have been made decade after decade before us. We need to stand strong in the face of those who wish to sow the seeds of fear and division by fabricating crises and demonising certain groups in society—especially those groups that do not have the resources or communication access to argue their own case. We need to be wise to the tactics that would turn us against each other by fuelling jealousy, contempt and hatred for some of our fellow Australians. If we accept this framing of the world and if we buy into the simplistic view of them versus us, where we clearly mark out the territory of the two and jealously guard the intervening borders, there is little doubt we will all lose.

The truth is that the vast majority of us want to live in a peaceful, caring and, above all, fair world, where people get the support they need to get through tough times and the opportunity they need to contribute productively to Australia’s future. We need to be willing to unite with our fellow Australians to ensure that we do not stray from that path. Now more than ever, Australia needs to recognise that growing inequality is one of the greatest threats that we face. A recent Forbes and Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook study found that the wealthiest one per cent of Australians have more money than 60 per cent of the population. It also found that the nine richest people in Australia have a fortune equal to the net worth of the 4.5 million Australians in the poorest 20 per cent. In Australia since 1975, real wages for the bottom 10th of earners has risen by 15 per cent, while the top 10th have seen wage increases of 59 per cent. At the same time the income share of the top one per cent has doubled and the income share of the top 0.1 per cent has tripled. Globally, it is staggering that the top 85 richest people now own half the entire world’s wealth. A recent Oxfam report outlines the problem very clearly when it says:

“…inequality threatens to further entrap poor and marginalised people and undermine efforts to tackle extreme poverty. By concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the few, inequality robs the poorest people of the support they need to improve their lives, and means that their voices go unheard.”

But there are still those who think it is okay for some individuals to have more than they could spend even if they lived a hundred lifetimes, while hundreds of thousands wonder where their next meal is coming from. Others believe there is nothing wrong with multinational companies hiding an estimated $21 trillion in tax havens globally, while thousands of Australians struggle to keep a roof over their heads.

I do not believe this is okay. In fact, I believe one of the strongest obligations in the Australian social contract is that we look after each other and strive of fairness were ever possible. We have a responsibility to provide support to help our fellow Australians overcome the challenges and to acknowledge that greater equality leads to better outcomes for all of this. Let’s be clear: these are not just warm fuzzy platitudes about how nice it is to do nice things for people from lefties like myself. No, scholars have confirmed that more equal societies achieve better outcomes for all their citizens. British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett analysed hundreds of peer reviewed research papers on the spirit of inequality in their groundbreaking book, The Spirit Level. They looked at 11 different health and social problems including: physical health, mental health, drug abuse, education, imprisonment, obesity, social mobility, trust and community life, violence, teenage pregnancies and child wellbeing. In doing so, they found that, for each and every one of these issues, outcomes are significantly worse in countries that are more unequal. This stands in stark contrast to the idea sometimes peddled by the conservative side of politics. Using naive metaphors like ‘All boats will rise’, they attempt to justify inequality and the failed mantra of trickle-down economics, which has been referred to in the Guardian as ‘the greatest broken promise of our lifetime’.

Despite the evidence, there are still some who assert that inequality is actually a good thing—people like Canadian millionaire Kevin O’Leary, who said that is fantastic that the world’s 85 richest people have wealth that equals that held by 3.5 billion poorest people on the planet. He justifies this outrageous statement by saying that the one per cent provide inspiration and motivation for the 99 per cent to work harder. While this is a ridiculous argument that verges on caricature, it has some things in common with the untruths that get hauled out in our national debate to rationalise a tax on some of the most vulnerable Australians. Reading some media outlets, you may be fooled into thinking that poverty is just the result of a lack of will on behalf of the poor—if poor people just tried a little, they too could rise to the ranks of the ridiculously rich—and that the problem is not one of fairness, but one of laziness.

Of course, the simplistic argument is completely blind to the reality of human circumstance. The truth is that not all people start equally—not all are blessed with loving families, adequate food or stable housing. This means that some people cannot even see the starting line, let alone win the race. It is the responsibility of government to ensure that those who are not blessed are given the resources and pathways they need to rise above difficult circumstances. All Australians need to get the chance to achieve their full potential and we need to develop the right pathways, policies and resources to help them do this. Unfortunately, many would have us believe that we inhabit an economy rather than a society. In doing so they place the ultimate worth on the figures on the balance sheet at the expense of our health, our environment, our educational achievements, our cohesiveness and our unity as a people. But the irony is that this very balance sheet is also at risk if we let our country slide into a sea of have-nots, topped up by a sparse sprinkling of very rich haves.

In fact, there is a growing body of research that shows this very inequality leads to reduced economic outcomes for the country as a whole. Only a few months ago, the IMF warned that inequality seriously damages economic growth. It found that countries with high levels of inequality achieve lower growth compared to nations with more evenly distributed incomes. Similarly, Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has warned that inequality can make growth more volatile and create the unstable conditions for sudden slowdowns. But it is not just our financial stability at risk from growing inequality; our social and political stability is at risk too. In its annual assessment of global dangers, the World Economic Forum found that the chronic gap between rich and poor to be the biggest single risk to the world in 2014. It warns of a lost generation of young people unable to work, and this could easily boil over into very serious social upheaval.

But this is not a foregone conclusion. Finance chief at Swiss Re, David Cole, who worked on the World Economic Forum report, said:

“… there are moments in time when capitalism can go into overdrive and it is important to have measures in place—whether regulatory, government or tax measures—that ensure we avoid excesses in terms of income and wealth distribution.”

Similarly, the IMF has pointed out that governments can turn things around. Over the last year, it has published two major papers on inequality which explain its effect on growth and how tax and spending policies can be designed to help achieve redistribution at a minimal cost to economic efficiency. By investing in fairness through policy, we also create an environment where people can contribute to a more productive, prosperous society for us all.

I stand today proud to have been part of a long history of a party that is inclusive—a party that stands up for the most vulnerable members of our society and a party that seeks to allow Australians to be the very best they can, but, most importantly, a party that will fight for a fair go for all of us. That is why I am Labor.

In the words of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, Labor has always aimed to promote equality, to involve the people of Australia in the decision making processes of our land, and to liberate the talents and uplift the horizons of the Australian people. We have held true to this philosophy over the years in a range of policy areas.

We know that health outcomes can have a huge impact on the ability of people to achieve their potential. This is why the Whitlam government established universal health care, to ensure that all Australians would have access to quality health care regardless of income or background. So it is with education. Labor’s landmark Gonski review of education found that achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds were larger than in any comparable nation and the situation would only worsen without urgent action. The Labor government listened, and set in train the nation-building reforms to address inequality within our education system by funding schools according to the needs of individual students. Similarly, the National Disability Insurance Scheme will go some way to addressing inequality for many Australians. The NDIS will mean more choice and control, more independence and more opportunities for people with disability to be involved in school, work and community life. The Rudd government’s move to increase pensions in 2009 actually served to reduce relative poverty by one-fifth, while Labor’s low-income super contribution allowed 3.6 million low-income earners to better save for their retirement.

We also cannot forget that the union movement has been a steadfast force for the working people of Australia, consistently and determinedly fighting for a fair go, especially for lower-paid workers. Now more than ever we need to recognise that nothing is a given. We need to understand that if we want a fairer, better world for our children and grandchildren, we must be prepared to fight for it. And now more than ever we need to rail against the gaping chasm of inequality that threatens to grow ever wider if we do not act. This is a challenge for all of us in this place, and I wish you all strong arms and stout hearts in your efforts.

I have tried to do my best over my personal and political life to fight for the most vulnerable in our community, as a teacher, and as a state minister for education and skills, children, child protection, housing, disability, police and emergency services—and you wonder why I look this old!—and, more recently, in this place. I hope my efforts have progressed our efforts in caring for people living with dementia and custodial grandparents and in support for children and young people. I have tried to ensure Tasmania’s future as a place of unique beauty and lifestyle through my efforts in regard to the GMO moratorium, protecting our fisheries from the ravages of supertrawlers and attacks on our World Heritage areas. Whether I have succeeded, of course, is for others to judge.

All through this time I have enjoyed the support of remarkable friendships with Senator Carol Brown and Julie Collins. Oxley Court is seared into my memory forever. I know they both will continue to do wonderful things for Tasmania in my absence. I hope to continue to enjoy the friendship of Anne Urquhart and the rest of the Tasmanian Senate team, along with that of Anne McEwen, Gavin Marshall, Claire Moore, Doug Cameron and Louise Pratt, amongst others.

Throughout my time here, I have been supported by wonderful staff: Rebecca Willetts, Steve Best, Adam Clarke, Natalie Jones and Darren Clark. You are the best. My heartfelt thanks for your hard work, dedication and companionship.

Thanks, too, to the good people of the Tasmanian branch of Labor—too many to list here, but I can’t not mention John Dowling, Chris Brown, Tim Jacobsen, Helen Gibbons and John Short. You are the bedrock the party depends on.

My thanks to all the great people who work in this place and make sure that as senators we are able to do our work to the best of our ability: the Clerk and her staff, Hansard, the committee secretariats, the library staff, catering staff and cleaners, and last but certainly not least, Ian and Peter and their shuttle team.

I wish all in this place the best. Regardless of our political differences, you are all here to serve your fellow Australians. I may not agree with your beliefs and values, but I do know you hold them sincerely. I know the sacrifices you make to do your jobs, and I thank you for them.

I am looking forward to being back in my beloved Tassie and spending time with my family and friends, particularly my husband of 31 years, the wonderful Toby Thorp. And believe me, we have plans. Thank you.

Thorp

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