A vicious, bridge burning last speech by a politician or a public servant (people usually keeping their own counsel and toeing the party line) carries a similar thrill to an action star walking away from an explosion without looking back, and this week gave us a couple of gems. In honour of the two decidedly thorned farewells from John Lloyd and Tim Soutphommasane, Crikey has decided to look back over our favourite poisoned kiss-offs. 

John Lloyd

John Lloyd — as head of the Australian Public Service Commission — was perhaps the most Abbottian public service appointment of Tony Abbott era. A publicly funded Institute of Public Affairs helper and industrial relations hardliner who succeeded only in wounding what he was put in charge of, and failing to live up to the standards he himself set. Before tottering out of the door on whatever remains of his bullet-riddled feet, he gave a dreary account of stifling political correctness that would have done the man who hired him proud:

We are deluged at every turn by do-gooders telling us what we should eat and drink, how we should exercise, how we should think, how we should spend our money, what type of dwelling we should live in. It seems every day is a world day for either genuine or mindless causes for good. Virtual signalling is rampant in some quarters.

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This concerns me. I think there is a danger the diversity of views and opinions that go to good policy advice could be stifled by pervasive group think dictated by what is politically correct. 

George Brandis

As Crikey has chronicled previously, former Attorney General George Brandis jaunts in public speaking were … of variable quality. On his way out, he showed all that of that famed petulance at his opponents (speaking of shadow AG Mark Dreyfus: “One of the many reasons that I’m cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the next federal election is that I believe the leader of the opposition is quite close to Mr Dreyfus and often seeks his advice.”) but also turned it upon his own team, with allusions to his feud with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton:

… [I]ncreasingly, in recent years, powerful elements of right-wing politics have abandoned both liberalism’s concern for the rights of the individual and conservatism’s respect for institutions, in favour of a belligerent, intolerant populism which shows no respect for either the rights of individual citizens or the traditional institutions which protect them.

Tim Soutphommasane

Race Discrimination Commissioner Soutphommasane, like his colleague Gillian Triggs has had a hell of a time. He’s been subjected to derision by media and sections of government for pointing out racial discrimination. Meanwhile, white supremacists fill our screens and the most-read columnist in Australia muses on “Jewish colonies”. So it’s not particularly surprising that his final speech had a distinctly Negroni-like kick. After Malcolm Turnbull had kept schtum as Soutphommasane was attacked, and even did his bit to stoke and grubbily exploit racial tensions in Melbourne, there was a pointed reference in his description of the Australia he leaves behind: 

We must remain vigilant because race politics is back. I take no pleasure in saying this but, right now, it feels like there has never been a more exciting time to be a dog-whistling politician or race-baiting commentator in Australia. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have said it was likely that we would see the resurgence of far-right politics. I wouldn’t have expected that the biggest threats to racial harmony would come from within our parliaments and from sections of our media. Yet here we are.

Melissa Parke

Parke represented Fremantle, Western Australia’s most left leaning seat, for nearly a decade, a position you don’t hold unless you’re to the left of mainstream Labor policy on asylum seekers (and a few other topics, as it happens). This conviction was maintained to her last speech where she took aim at her own party over asylum seeker policy:

The war on people smugglers, accompanied by a faux concern for drownings at sea, has facilitated the profound deterioration in Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, our compliance with international human rights obligations and our own image of ourselves as a nation of tolerance, egalitarianism and the fair go. The present offshore detention system is a festering wound that is killing people and eroding our national character and reputation. It needs to be healed.

Bronwyn Bishop

Parke’s farewell speech may have made more of splash had it not fallen on the same day as the Bronwyn Bishop gave hers. This was back when Bishop was a laughing stock for never having encountered a puddle she wouldn’t use a publicly-funded helicopter to navigate, but before she became a laughing stock for ascribing all the world’s ills to “socialism”. Mostly she stuck to the standard anecdotes/achievements/regrets formula. But she did turn her villainous purr to her one time dauphin Tony Abbott — whose job she had (fruitlessly, as it turned out) quit to save and who didn’t turn up for her farewell — with this ominous promise: 

That came to an end when I was asked to resign to protect Tony Abbott, someone whom I had assisted and worked with and respected for many years. There is much more than meets the eye in that saga, but not for now.

Did we miss any great ones? Let us know at boss@crikey.com.au.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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