Eight Senators go at the end of the week. Will any of them be missed? Hillary Bray reports.
Politicians aren’t shy, retiring creatures, and when the turn comes to speak they really let their egos off the leash. The results can be hilarious, as Senators build grandiose verbal monuments to themselves or bitterly bucket the birdbrains who brought them down.
We’ve been sitting in on the speeches but we thought we’d look beyond them and offer our reflections on the valedictorians and how they really should be remembered.
Vicki Bourne: Australian Democrats, New South Wales
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When Natasha Stott-Despoja became leader of the Democrats they lost credibility, votes and poor old Vicki Bourne.
Bourne is a typical example of the woolly headed type Dem you can find dancing round with the fairies at the bottom of the garden and while that makes her silly and funny, it also means that she’s an amiable enough soul.
She leaves no great achievements behind, but has been a solid campaigner for human rights and focussed particularly on East Timor over the past few years.
And few people know that she often got extremely nervous before press conferences and would throw up.
Barney Cooney: ALP, Victoria
Barney Cooney was canonised on his last sitting day, as Senators from all parties fought to get close enough to shower him with rose petals.
There’s always a degree of sanctimony on occasions such as these. However, the Senate is a smaller chamber and does much of its work through committees, and this means that Senators from opposing sides are closer to each other than their colleagues in the Reps. Sometimes, there is even a mood of collaboration and Cooney has always sought to foster that mood.
Cooney has been seen as a hard worker and, above all, as principled and genuine. He will go down as a Senator’s Senator who did his best to make the Senate a genuine house of review.
Winston Crane: Liberal, Western Australia
He didn’t earn the nickname “Winnie the Shit” for nothing. Crane’s departure is no doubt being celebrated by the many staff who went in and out of his door over the years such as the ones who were surprised to discover that babysitting was a vital part of their job.
Still, others will miss Winnie and his missus. They provided an example, after all. After seeing them together, even the casual observer came away with a whole new understanding of what is meant by the words “siege mentality”.
Crane got bumped down the Western Australian Liberal Senate ticket as part of that state’s continual internecine warfare, with long running queries about his charter flights being used to add a veneer of respectability to proceedings. Winnie has responded in kind with a bitter valedictory bagging the man who is taking his seat, Michael Johnson, accusing him of hanging onto documents that would have exonerated him.
Rosemary Crowley: ALP, South Australia
A former doctor, a Senator for almost 20 years and a minister to boot who seems set to only be remembered for an episode when her bedside manner was very poor indeed her less than sensitive handling of the matter of the death of a young girl from toxic shock after inserting a tampon.
Brenda Gibbs: ALP, Queensland
Pommy-born union hack who got dropped too far down the ticket after just one term best known for for can I please have my phone call here, Eddie?
Jim McKiernan: ALP, Western Australia
To be sure and begorrah, tis himself. A central casting Irishman indeed, a one time Irish-Australian of the year McKiernan will be best remembered for his running battle with Amanda Vanstone to see who could wear the most garish outfit. Epileptics were advised not to enter the public galleries on days when he was sporting some of his more spectacular shirt and tie combos.
Put in solid work on various committees and his good humour eased many tense situations.
Chris Schacht: ALP, South Australia
The Long Schacht a former minister and solid party man, dumped down the ticket for the heinous crime of being one of the few survivors of the old centre-left faction has spent the week indulging in some delicious revenge.
He’s written a goodbye to party members recalling days working for the Dunstan and Whitlam governments and “running successful election campaigns” happily contrasting the results gained when he was the South Australian state secretary of the ALP with the party’s anaemic performance since it was taken over by “the machine”.
Simon Crean’s reform process has received loud and public backing from Schacht during his final week in the Senate, too. He’s invoked Whitlam here as well, and how he managed reform within the party while also setting a vote winning policy agenda. He also has the perfect example of why reform is needed his own downfall. “The two major factions in the machine both wanted to get Senate positions so that they could provide an extra guernsey for one of their factional loyalists as well as providing staffing positions to factional young people who they were recruiting in. That had more to do with having a career in the Labor Party rather than having ideas and policy ideas for the future.” Exquisite. A bravura performance. If only Crane had a tenth of the panache.
Schacht served as a minister, but what he will be remembered for is being one of the brains that helped Labor regroup after its devastating losses in 1975 and 1977 and then go on enjoy a remarkable series of successes, state and federal, through the eighties.
Sue West: ALP, New South Wales
Sue West might have been New South Wales first female Senator, but she is doomed to go down in history more as a footnote. West was set to become Deputy President of the Senate back in 1996, but then Mal Colston decided he could do better, abandoned his comrades and crossed the floor, winning the job with Coalition support.
The comrades rewarded him by leaking what they had assiduously covered up while in Government the fact that Colston had both hands in the till and was so overwhelmed by his rorting that he needed to give his family taxpayer funded jobs to help him out. Colston became an untouchable. Even more importantly, after the 1998 election he became an untouchable whose vote was useless and, lo and behold, Sue West got the job only a couple of years late.
Hillary Bray can be contacted at [email protected]