In this, my last Senate diary jottings for 2016, I must keep one figure in mind. That number is 6,039,000. That’s the most recent statistic for the population of the state of Victoria. The state I represent in Canberra.
It’s a timely reminder that although nearly a quarter of a million Victorians gave me their primary Senate vote, millions didn’t.
And I sit on that red leather bench representing the rights and welfare of all those people.
Actually, I think we have done well in the less than four months I have been a Victorian senator. And this will not be a Crikey-sponsored campaign speech.
I’ll just say, we have got McDonald’s, one of Australia’s biggest employers, to change its policy on hiring convicted sex offenders — after we found one at the Penrith Panthers McDonald’s outlet offering teenage employees a ride home after a late finish.
There was government backing for my campaign to pull the passports of convicted paedophiles going on child rape holidays in south-east Asia. I was alerted to this by actress Rachel Griffiths, who asked: how come a person judged to be bankrupt has their passport confiscated for seven years but the same doesn’t apply to a criminal on the sex offender register?
I found out from the federal police that 800 convicted sex offenders went overseas last year and more than 300 of them went to places like Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia.
Nick Xenophon and I got some major whistleblower protection issues embedded in government legislation plus greater scrutiny of 457 visa rorts, and protection of subbies’ payments.
Getting photographers in the Senate the right to click away and do their jobs was a media freedom success — after the ban had been in place for decades.
My main goals for next year are: to continue working with the states on a national public register of convicted sex offenders; and to have a Senate committee investigation, with public hearings, into a medical scandal, which I have described as the biggest for Australian women since the Thalidomide tragedy of the 1950s and 1960s.
That is the continued implantation of trans-vaginal mesh into women suffering from incontinence and prolapse problems. The mesh, which degrades in the human body, has been banned in Scotland, is under review in Canada, and is the subject of lawsuits involving 100,000 women in the United States.
I am also sitting on a new Senate committee — along with David Leyonhjelm and Sam Dastyari — aimed at slashing red tape in this country. In government agencies and private industry.
Speaking of Senator Sam, he’s been back in the news. Back where he knows he belongs — except when holding train-wreck press conferences about his China plates.
In the news because, rumour has it, he has served his penance over bill-paying malfeasance and will be back on the opposition frontbench when we resume in February.
The self-proclaimed Dasher also featured recently in one of the strangest hirsute discussions I heard on the Senate floor. And, to a newcomer, there were some trivial doozies.
“… I note that when I asked my second question of Senator Brandis today, he could barely be heard over the jeers that were coming from the other side of the chamber in what was nothing more than a relentless and unfair attack on my hairstyle. Let me be clear: we cannot all be as fortunate as Senator Hinch, who is in this chamber today. We may all try to aspire to have what Senator Hinch has, but none of us can be that fortunate and none of us can be that lucky.”
It can be a hair-raising place.
A hangover from Prohibition? Being a newbie has given me the perfect solution to the annual Xmas present quandary from the Senate gift shop near the front door. Embossed Senate mugs, cufflinks, wine glasses and pens.
One great souvenir, I thought, was a small bottle of “Parliament House gin” for a friend in the United States. It boomeranged from Australia Post with an official letter pointing out that “alcohol (gin) is a prohibited import into the USA”.
And I hope I have heard for the last time from a cheery flight attendant that “you must be enjoying your holidays” as we fly back into Canberra yet again. Just because Parliament isn’t sitting until February that doesn’t mean you are not working at estimates committee meetings.
And then there are the emails and calls from heaps of frustrated and angry and hurting among those 6,039,000 constituents. And the woman in Queensland complaining about the poor condition of “speckled fruit” in her local supermarket. Even sent me a photo to prove it. I know how she feels. I was having the same problem with online lemons from Woolies.
So, have a safe and meaningful Yuletide season. Make the most of it. Remember the Irish saying: “The longer you live, the sooner you die.”
And as they say (and sing) in Hawaii “mele kalikimaka”.