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Senator Don Farrell (ALP-SA) – Valedictory Speech

Don Farrell was elected as a Labor senator from South Australia at the 2007 federal election.


Farrell served just one term. He was one of six ALP senators to be defeated at the 2013 federal election. His term expired on June 30, 2014. His place was taken by Bob Day of the Family First party.

Farrell had originally been preselected to the number one position on the ALP Senate ticket for the election, but he relinquished it to Penny Wong, out of deference to her status as a senior minister. However, the ALP only polled 22.66% of the primary vote and won just one seat.

A prominent supporter of Julia Gillard in her leadership battles with Kevin Rudd, Farrell served as a Parliamentary Secretary and a junior minister in Gillard’s government between 2010 and 2013.

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

  • Listen to Farrell’s speech (21m – transcript below)
  • Watch Farrell’s speech (21m)
  • 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 Don Farrell’s valedictory speech to the Senate.


Senator FARRELL (South Australia) (17:49): I am the lucky last of the retiring senators to speak—although, come to think of it, lucky is probably not a word that you would necessarily associate with my political career, especially since I was given a dead fish by Senator Kroger. That has certain connotations, I think, in certain areas. Those of you who were here last night will recall Senator Ursula Stephens singing in her valedictory speech. I have been strongly encouraged to do the same here tonight, but I will not. Later on perhaps I will give a rendition of Danny Boy with Senator Stephens. Senator Furner got all of the good lines, because he spoke before me.

I propose to start this evening by referring to something that you usually mention at the end of a speech. Of all the things that I have to say this evening, this is going to be the most important. On this my last week in public life I want to thank my wife of 30 years, Nimfa, and my daughters, Mary, Tess and Emily, for the unqualified love and support that they have given me—throughout my working life, certainly, but most importantly during my time here as a Labor senator for South Australia. It has been said before by others—and I shall say it again tonight—that we could not do our work in this place without the unflinching support of our partners and our families, and it is certainly the case for me. My time in this place would have been quite impossible, indeed quite intolerable at times, without the knowledge that my family—including my new son-in-law, James; he and my daughter Mary are watching this tonight over the internet in Moscow—have stood alongside me at all times but particularly when the wheel of political fortune rolled wildly downwards, as it has done over the last two years.

I have had the immense privilege of serving the people of South Australia as a senator, as a deputy whip and as a parliamentary secretary. I was a Labor minister in both the Gillard and Rudd governments with the portfolio of Sports, Tourism and Science. In recent months, I have served the Senate as the Opposition Spokesman on Veterans’ Affairs. I am sure my colleagues will allow me—with much humility of course—to point out some of the achievements that I am quietly proud of.

As Minister for Sports, I facilitated one of the largest tranches ever of funding for grassroots sports infrastructure to encourage the participation of people of all ages and ability in healthy sporting activity—I intend to do a little bit of it myself over the months ahead. In tourism, we saw a record increase in the number of tourists visiting Australia from key markets like China. As science minister, I assisted South Australia’s new health and biomedical precinct with a $100-million boost for the Uni SA’s cancer biology centre to research blood cancers and for the University of Adelaide’s integrated clinical school for medical and nursing students.

As Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, I was able to improve the capacity of the Bureau of Meteorology by increasing the number of front-line forecasters and launched the next gen weather forecasting system. This has enabled the bureau, a much loved Australian institution, to provide better forecasting for ever-accelerating severe weather events’ also drove the roll out of the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme. In what was a fractious parliament, I brought together the opposition and the Greens to support a world-class scheme that ensures that from July at least 90 per cent of all e-waste materials, most of which are unpleasantly toxic, will be recovered from landfill and made available for use in new products.

In my first speech in this place, I declared that in 1954—60 years ago now—I was born in Murray Bridge. As someone with Murray River water running through my veins, I was particularly devastated to watch the drought punish that mighty river, a river which in many ways is the artery of our nation. With Julia Gillard’s unwavering commitment and some terrific work by top public servants, I was proud to assist Tony Burke, who is here tonight, in securing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. For the first time in our history, water became a national rather than a state issue. I need to be clear about this: it would not have been achieved without a second Labor of term in office, but I am certain that the plan will stand the test of time.

If you believe some of the media, you would think that politics is concerned with left and right. Instead, it is about right or wrong. In my six years in this place, I have worked hard with colleagues on my side of the chamber but also with colleagues opposite and on the crossbenchers to achieve progress in the portfolio areas which my leaders have assigned me. Unfortunately politics is seen as a blood sport in the media in Australia but what Australians do not see often enough is the genuine cooperation and the spirit of bipartisanship that often underlies a lot of we do to advance Australia. I take this opportunity to thank all Senate colleagues for the good work that we have done together in good heart.

Perhaps the portfolio area that has meant most to me and the one that has affected me most deeply is veteran’s affairs. In this, my last hurrah, I intend to resist the temptation to lecture and hector but I would like you to forgive me this: the government’s attempts to remove modest entitlements from the children of dead and wounded veterans was mindless and utterly disgraceful. I was proud to have led the parliamentary charge which defeated that attempt. I must use a few of my last words in this place to implore the coalition senators not to allow their government to downgrade the indexation of pensions of war veterans and war widows, a downgrading that will over time leave them much worse off. Please do not do it.

This is a place of rough-and-tumble, of vigorous debate and of hotly contested approaches as to how taxpayers’ money should be spent. We all accept that there ought to be one area of policy that is of a higher order—that is, a matter of unassailable public bipartisanship—and that is veterans’ affairs. Putting oneself into harm’s way in the service of our country is the highest form of public office bar none. We owe these people and their families a monumental debt and the gravest obligation is to look after them and their families. When they are deployed in the name of our country, ADF members and their families do not stop to count the cost nor must we count the cost when they return to us, not now, not ever.

In the last election I gave up my No. 1 position on the ballot to Senator Wong. In my maiden speech and at the suggestion of my daughter Tess, I quoted Owen Wilson in Zoolander. ‘The votes are in, Amigo. What’s left to ponder?’ said Owen. Owen was right and wrong. The votes are in, certainly, and I am out but there are certain things to ponder. With your indulgence, I would like to reflect upon my time here and in general in a personal sense.

I came to the Senate after a long career of as an officer at the SDA. I am pleased to see so many of my SDA colleagues here in the gallery this evening. There is a predisposition on the part of some commentators in this country to denigrate anybody who comes to this place from a union background. Let me say this: I have been, I am and I always will be a staunch member of the Australian trade union movement. I do not care what anybody says; I am proud of having served ordinary Australian working men and women as an officer of the SDA and I am proud of my commitment to social justice, fairness and dignity in working life. I am proud to have been part of a Labor government that undid the deeply un-Australian, unmandated WorkChoices.

My time as a senator has been marked by some very difficult challenges as well some terrific highs. But it would be hypocritical of me not to address those challenges here. It is well known that I was described as one of the ‘faceless men’ who argued for the replacement of Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard in 2010. As well as being dubbed faceless, I have been called ‘nameless’ and, indeed, ‘shapeless’ by some members of the Fourth Estate.

This is vastly entertaining, as I consider that I have been in the public eye all of my working life. For good or ill, I am a recognisable figure and have been so for decades. To suddenly wake up one morning and find myself without a face was extremely Kafkaesque. I have also been called ‘the Don’ and ‘the Godfather’, and one genius in the press gallery even dubbed me ‘the Pope’. In this he was clearly mistaken—as he is in so many other things. For the record, I am married with three daughters, and infallibility belongs to the women in our household.

Make no mistake: removing a Labor Prime Minister mid-term was a traumatic political event, but my view at the time was that it had to be done for the good of the country. My view has not changed in retrospect. During this very difficult time I rang an old friend for some counsel. It was being said that the removal of the Prime Minister was the worst political assassination since Julius Caesar fell on the Senate steps. My erudite and witty friend said, ‘Comrade, tell them this: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.’ I think that probably says it all. The Italian poet Dante once wrote, ‘The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.’ I would hope that during my time in public life I have earned at least the right to carry a candle into hell.

I was deeply saddened at the way Julia Gillard was treated as Prime Minister of this country. Frankly, her critics diminished themselves rather than her. Tonight I wish to acknowledge the extraordinary skill and the courage with which the Prime Minister dealt with that hung parliament. Her legislative achievements will be seen more appreciatively through the prism of history. If there is any doubt that she was not worthy of the high honour of being Prime Minister of Australia, I invite people to revisit her graceful concession speech and her own brave and insightful valedictory speech. As far as the leadership of our nation is concerned, it will be easier for the next woman and the one after that. As a proud father of three daughters, I want them to know that they can be anything they want to be. Julia Gillard showed them the way, and I will be forever grateful to her for that.

I want to thank the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, who is here tonight, for the opportunity that he gave me to serve on his front bench after the election. In a very short space of time, Bill and his very talented frontbench team have put the Labor Party well and truly back in the race. I wish Bill and Chloe all the best as they seek to rebuild the fairness and egalitarianism that should underpin our country and the conduct of our national affairs.

The Labor challenge has been made much harder by our disastrous Senate result at the last election. I do not think there is any other way to describe it. The loss of eight Labor senators committed to fairness and dignity for all Australians is devastating. Future Senate contests will require us to mount a proper campaign if we are to regain a second Senate seat in South Australia.

At election time particularly, those of us involved in campaigning often come across people whose knowledge of the way we conduct our national affairs is less than fulsome. There are some people out in the electorate even now who are not sure what senators do. When I was elected, a mate of mine with only a marginal knowledge of classical history told me that Rome had senators too and that is why it declined. I suspect in the next term of this parliament we are about to find out whether or not that is true. The challenge, I fear, in the new Senate will be to avoid turning this great institution into a reality TV show feeding the 24-hour news cycle, and competing at the same time as Al Gore and Clive Palmer is going to be very tough.

At this point I would like to stop and make a few thankyous to some people who are very important to me. I wish to profusely thank my current staff: Sevi, Joan, Ben, Nina, and Remon, and all of my former staff, many of whom are here today, including Helen, Andrew, Manny, Amelia, Bridget and Tom. Many other friends in the gallery have joined me here today. In fact, I have been overwhelmed by the number of people who are going to be joining us this evening. I would also like to thank the clerks, Hansard and the Senate chamber staff, especially my fellow Crows supporter, Bryan, who I know is looking forward, like me, to whipping Port Adelaide at the magnificent newly-built Adelaide Oval this coming Sunday afternoon. Finally, I thank the perpetually tolerant and unfailingly helpful Comcar drivers. I also note that the Irish ambassador is here tonight and I thank him for coming along.

If the truth be known I had not actually planned to make my valedictory speech after just one term in parliament. The truth is that I had hoped to be here a little longer. But, as John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.’ It turned out he was right—as was Ned Kelly, who said, ‘Such is life.’

It has been a tremendous privilege to serve South Australia and the labour movement in the nation’s parliament, a privilege given to so few. After my Senate defeat, my youngest daughter, Emily, said that I had lost a sparkle in my eye. I intend to get that back in the months ahead. I wish all Senate colleagues the very best, whether they are staying, coming or, like me, going. I welcome the new senators, some of whom are here tonight, and I urge all of them, regardless of party or other allegiances, to think deeply, argue courteously and remember the words of the philosopher John Stuart Mill: ‘The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.’

Now, as I leave this place to prepare for post-political life and the birth of our first grandchild, I say good night and God bless.


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Malcolm Farnsworth
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