Senator Mark Furner (ALP-Qld) – Valedictory Speech

Mark Furner was elected to the Senate as a Labor member from Queensland at the 2007 federal election.

Furner

Furner served just one six-year term and was one of six ALP senators defeated at the 2013 federal election. His term finished on June 30, 2014. He was replaced by Glenn Lazarus from the Palmer United Party.

Furner was one of the last three outgoing senators to give a valedictory speech on June 25, 2014. The others were ALP Senator Don Farrell and Liberal Senator Helen Kroger. Following their speeches, nine other senators paid tributes to their departing colleagues.

  • Listen to Furner’s speech (24m – transcript below)
  • Watch Furner’s speech (24m)
  • Listen to Eric Abetz – Lib-Tas (9m)
  • Listen to Penny Wong – ALP-SA (9m)
  • Listen to Nigel Scullion – CLP-NT (6m)
  • Listen to Helen Polley – ALP-Tas (5m)
  • Listen to Anne Ruston – Lib-SA (3m)
  • Listen to Catryna Bilyk – ALP-Tas (6m)
  • Listen to Nick Xenophon – Ind-SA (2m)
  • Listen to Simon Birmingham – Lib-SA (5m)
  • Listen to Ian Macdonald – Lib-Qld (2m)

Hansard transcript of Senator Mark Furner’s valedictory speech to the Senate.

Furner

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (17:25): Mr President, many standards have been set in the last two weeks in senators giving their valedictory speeches. There was the standard of a short statement, going for about 40 or 45 minutes. Yesterday there was the standard set by my good friend Senator Ursula Stephens, which was the singing of a beautiful Irish song. To not be outdone, I brought into the chamber today the lyrics of Meatloaf, Bat out of Hell. But I am not going to sing!

Honourable senators interjecting—

Senator FURNER: I know many are disappointed, but I am not going to go down that path. But, seriously, as third on the Labor Senate ticket, both in the 2007 and 2013 general elections, I personally held no expectations beyond fair odds of any chance of being successful. It was not my good looks or larrikin personality that got me elected in 2007; it was the Kevin 07 campaign, the Your Rights at Work campaign and the support from Senator Hogg, Senator Moore and many other Queensland senators and other Queensland MPs. And let us not forget the Queensland members of the Queensland Labor Party.

Sadly, the Kevin 13 campaign did not have enough energy to bring me into the third position home last year. Notwithstanding that, it was an achievement to have won the third spot in 2007—an achievement not reached in 29 years—to win the unwinnable third Senate spot in Queensland.

Before coming to the Senate, some person with words of wisdom said to me: ‘Your life is about to change.’ Those words of wisdom came from you, Mr President. And certainly my life did change. But one thing did not change: they may have taken the boy out of Queensland but they never, ever took the Queensland out of the boy. I remain humbled and privileged, despite the amazing opportunity provided to me, to represent my state of Queensland as one of 12 senators. I do not think there can be any greater privilege provided to anyone in this country.

Like many other senators who have spoken in this chamber before have said, not only in valedictory speeches but on other occasions, the main work is committee work. I was extremely privileged to have served on a copious number of committees. Firstly, on the economics committee where I was provided with the opportunity to be involved in the inquiry into the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and also the Senate select committee’s inquiry into climate policy, followed by the community affairs committee, and the legal and constitutional affairs committee. I chaired the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances and I was also a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. I chaired the Defence Subcommittee. I was Deputy Chair of the Joint Committee on the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity and a member of the Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. At some stage I wondered when I would get the time to serve on some of these committees. At one stage, I was actually on nine committees in total.

Resulting from my involvement in these committees, two memorable trips remain etched in my memory. The first inquiry, while a member of the community affairs committee, was the petrol sniffing inquiry. Despite having travelled to Cherbourg, which is approximately 3.5 hours west of Brisbane, with local Aunty Honor Cleary, on several occasions and experiencing the community of Woorabinda—which is west of Rockhampton, in Queensland—in my time as an industrial officer with the Queensland Police Union, nothing ever prepared me for the understanding of the remote Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory throughout this particular inquiry.

Despite whatever persuasion of government, we must never rest until the gap is closed in this country. I believe that as Australians we are responsible for the living standards of our first Australians so it is only proper that we pursue our responsibilities to ensure their lives are lifted to the same level which we enjoy. I know that Senator Peris, my good friend, will not rest until this happens.

Secondly, as chair of the Defence Subcommittee, I was extremely privileged to lead a delegation to Afghanistan and experience firsthand the professionalism and dedication our men and women provide each and every day in dangerous and arduous conditions. Wherever they serve in the world, this is a commitment they are sworn to office with and a commitment they carry out very proudly. These men and women are the salt of the earth for the selfless commitment they make in defending and representing our country.

I remember the trip quite well, in particular in Tarin Kowt, flying up to a forward operational base, a FOB, in a Black Hawk helicopter to a local community and meeting with locals and hearing about the particular issues they were faced with. I do not think there was any greater privilege than being in that circumstance and understanding and appreciating the trust and commitment that those community leaders had for our brave men and women in the FOB in that location.

The other memorable event was going to the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, and standing there watching an Afghan soldier writing on the whiteboard. You might think there is nothing unusual about that, but this particular gentleman had not been able to write or read six weeks earlier. It was the professional training our Australian troops provided this particular gentleman with that enabled him to write in his own language, Pashtun, and teach his fellow Afghan soldiers.

Also I delved deep into parliamentary Defence programs in Amberley RAAF Border Protection Command up in Darwin with Talisman Sabre and RIMPAK. Like Senator Kroger, I thoroughly enjoyed those opportunities and I would encourage everyone regardless of your time, to take at least one opportunity to be involved in the parliamentary Defence programs.

Labor in office delivered so much in government—the apology, paid parental leave, the NDIS, repealing unjust industrial relations laws and introducing balanced legislation based on a fair go for all consistent with the egalitarian society Australia was built on. And like you, Mr President, during the global financial crisis and after it, I was privileged to go along to a number of BER, Building the Education Revolution, openings. I did not open anywhere near as many as you did. I think I got to around about 139, ranging from Charleville to Bundaberg in my five duty seats of Longman, Dickson, Brisbane, Forde and Wright. It was always a privilege to be involved in those openings and see the good work that we provided to those schools, schools that provided science rooms and halls and, on many occasions, libraries for the first time ever.

I just want to reflect on one matter in my first speech with regard to climate change. Towards the end, I said this:

“With full respect, I bring the challenge to you, fellow senators, that we combine our skills to be part of the generation that took the opportunity to change the direction of climate change, and not the last generation that was responsible for the demise of our nation and the world.”

Please do not judge me as a tree-hugging Green—I am not—but I think we need to appreciate our environment and we need to appreciate the fact that there is climate change. Certainly during the carbon pollution reduction scheme inquiry and also the climate change inquiry, I heard plenty of evidence that indicated that climate change is real. So the only real concern I had as a result of the CPRS bills was the fact that the Greens voted with the coalition to defeat the CPRS bills, and that was a disappointment to me.

I wish opposition leader Bill Shorten, and Senator Wong here in the Senate, all the best in returning Labor to government in 2016, and I thank also the whips and the staff. They have been an amazing help and assistance too. Regardless of whether we are in government or in opposition, they are always there to help us and it has been a privilege to be involved with them. Additionally, I would like to wish all the best to Senators Parry and Marshall in your forthcoming roles. No doubt they will be discussed when the Senate resumes a fortnight from now. And also to all fellow senators, regardless of whatever party you are involved in, it has been a privilege to have been here with you in this chamber and during our many, many dealings in committee work and our exchanges across the chamber. There is no malice in that. It is something that we do here and I think that in some respects there is a bit of humour and at times we should remember that.

I would like to thank the Queensland Labor Party—the secretary, Anthony Chisholm; Evan Morehead; organiser, Ryan Casey, and past organiser, Chris Forrester, for their support in my being able to have this fantastic privilege to represent Queensland in this chamber. I would also like to thank the trade union movement. The trade union movement should be recognised for the good work they do. It is important that workers have a voice to protect them from unjust workplace laws and unsafe acts. I was privileged to be involved in my capacity to assist the Services Union in this chamber along with a number of other members and senators including Shayne Neumann from Queensland to make sure that they achieved the pay equity case. I wish Neil Henderson, the secretary of that union, and Jen Thomas, the very best for the future.

One of the other things that I took seriously was my involvement with the multicultural community, and I guess in some respects that comes from my background as a trade union official dealing with the most multicultural workplace, Golden Circle. I engage with as many organisations and ethnic communities as possible—the Lebanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, African and countless others. My good friends, Nabil and Awatef, were two of the first people I met at a Lebanese function on Anzac Day in 2006 and there are the Obeid family—no relation to that Obeid in New South Wales; I am told that the name is like ‘Smith’, another example of how we should not stereotype one’s name—and also Sharon Orapeleng, the past president of the Queensland African Community Council, of which I am a proud member, to name just a few. It is great to be involved in their communities.

I would like to digress to a story about migrants. There was an opportunity where a Congolese gentleman, approximately the same age as my son, came into my office one day around 2009. We will call him Simon. He came to me and he said: ‘Mark, I need your help. My two children are back home in the Republic of Congo. I can’t get them to Australia.’ He told me this story which still touches me. He spoke about his activities as a human rights activist, going out into his country trying to record and accumulate data around what happened in the atrocities in the Republic of Congo. He was out on this particular day and while he was returning home he was stopped by one of his relatives, who said: ‘Don’t go home. Your home has been burnt down. Your wife’s been murdered but we’ve protected your children. We have your girls. They’re after you. Escape the country now.’ Well, he did. Simon escaped the country. He went through those detention centres in Africa and eventually he was accepted as a humanitarian refugee by our country.

We went through all the bases of getting his two girls out here, which we could not have done without the help of my amazing staff. Finally they were united about two years later, and I am now the proud godfather of those two girls. As a government, we can do more for migrants in this country. Rather than reducing the migration intake, we should be increasing that amount.

The Senate is such an amazing workplace, and I am sure you all agree. It never ceases to amaze me. From the moment you arrive in the morning, all of us are greeted by a friendly Comcar driver who drops you off, and some of us are greeted by a cleaner who has just completed cleaning your room and has thoroughly cleaned your suite during the early hours of the morning. Then, for me, it is off to the parliamentary gym where the staff spot you on your exhaust repetition weights you are lifting. I know Senator Mason is not here today, but he was kind enough to drop me a note. Probably only he would understand that. Then it is a chat with either Dom or Antonio from Aussie’s after your workout.

Later on in the day you are greeted by our friendly Senate chamber attendants as you enter the chamber for morning prayers. Of course, there is the professionalism of the staff from the Clerk’s Office to help you get through whether it is—a bill or a procedural matter—while you chair this amazing chamber, ensuring the business is progressed. Additionally, you may engage with the competent secretariat committee staff while being part of a committee meeting. In fact, everywhere you turn in this place you have the utmost support from all staff of parliament. While not singling anyone out intentionally, I do appreciate the support that Ian and Peter from Senate Transport have provided and their tireless work in ensuring you get to and from the Senate. Also, to the Clerk, Rosemary Laing, Deputy Clerk, Richard Pye, Maureen, Brien and Chris: thank you for your guidance and your knowledge in respect to my capacity of chairing this chamber at times. It has been invaluable. Thank you to everyone from Hansard who turns words into meanings.

However, I think one of my favourite pastimes that I will miss is the end of the week evening meal at Timmy’s Kitchen—one of our favourites. Most Thursdays you will find Senator Hogg, Senator Bilyk, Senator Polley, Senator Peris, Senator Farrell, Senator Tillem and Senator Bishop there, just to name a few—sometimes the characters change. We end up there, having an excellent but simple meal and friendly conversation over a bottle of wine—or two.

I will continue my work for and my involvement in and commitment to Relay for Life, and I thank Senator Moore for her involvement in my team since 2006. I also thank my good friend Vicki James from Queensland Cancer Council and all the other team mates who have been through over the years to raise money to the tune of over $120,000 since 1996. I salute you for your efforts and your commitment to finding a cure for cancer which affects so many of us in our communities.

Now I turn to my staff, and I do not have to tell other senators that we would be helpless in this workplace without the staff that we have here. I am so grateful that most of them are here today for this moment. Christine, unfortunately, could not be here today. Christine is my rock and throughout she has been without fault in regards to anything. It has been such a great opportunity to have her on my staff. Unfortunately, she is at home with her first child, Eva, and is unable to be here today. Eva Doolan came into the world five weeks early on 26 May, and the family is doing well. I really do not know how I could have got through a week without Christine’s conscientious commitment.

Terry, I appreciate your meticulous attention to detail in everything you do, whether it be constituent matters or other duties in the office. Thank you for your endless professionalism. Abdul, despite calling yourself Adam, you will always be Abdul to me. Just one word Abdul: concentrate—and you will get what you are looking for. Thank you for your loyalty and friendship. Then there is Abby. You brought a new dimension to the office. You became the social butterfly of the office while maintaining my financial records. You made us all laugh while maintaining those boring accounts. Lastly, Trent, your mum, Lee, would have been so proud of you for all your commitment to my office.

Lastly, I turn to my family. I think, in this line of work you sometimes take your family for granted. I say that on the basis of having lost my mum while being here. I always said to myself, ‘I’ll see her soon.’ Then that time passes. You never get that chance back again, and then they are gone. My mum passed away, never to see me in this workplace. But I always promise to commit more time to my dad, which I hope I am living up to, mate.

Notwithstanding mum passing away, I have now been blessed with two beautiful grandchildren, Xavia and Marley. Yes, I know what you are all thinking—I struggle myself—’He’s too young to have grandchildren.’ But you cannot stop Mother Nature and, despite being so young, I am so happy they are here, albeit too far from Brisbane to enjoy on a regular basis. It is terrific to have Troy, Stacey and Sally, my adorable children, and Daniela, my daughter-in-law, here today. Despite only having Sally at home now, she makes every effort when I return from Canberra most weeks to spoil me with a beautiful meal.

To my amazing wife of 35 years: Lorraine, you have stuck with me along this journey and everything I do, and now I am about to commit to my next stage in life to continue a political career in Queensland. Thank you for your love and your support.

Well, where to from here? Recently, a couple of weeks ago, Sally and I went up to our good friends Terri and Bindi Irwin of Australia Zoo to discuss some work up there. That will at some stage come to fruition. I am not going to go into too much detail about what that will mean. Certainly one of my opportunities as a senator was to open the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital up there. When we were in government we donated some money towards it. That is where the relationship blossomed.

I have had an amazing opportunity to go up north in the cape. I know some of the senators in Queensland have been up there and been on the property on the Wenlock River and jumped a crocodile with them, a 10½-footer. They record the findings of that particular reptile and then let it go. That particular work is important and must continue. Those reptiles have been around a lot longer than us. I must invite all of you to at some stage drop in and see this amazing attraction. I promise I won’t feed you to the crocodiles—at least, I promise some of you I won’t. But I certainly promise you this: I will definitely not be throwing roo poo at you.

The other opportunity is that you may wish to become one of my clients as your own parliamentary personal trainer. Just recently I have been training a new client, the member for Wright in Queensland, Scotty Buchholz. It is great to see you in the chamber, mate. So I could give you some instruction in the gym. If you are looking for a body like mine, you know my number and you know where you can find me.

Most of my time will be taken up, however, over the coming months—most likely leading up to March next year—in putting 100 per cent effort into winning that state seat of Ferny Grove back to Labor. I thank the state branch for this privilege to be given another opportunity to represent the great Labor Party. In politics nothing should be taken for granted, so we will see what materialises.

Furner

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