Roxon’s farewell: Don’t let naysayers define Labor

By , 08/08/2018 13:51

Nicola Roxon delivers her valedictory speech at Parliament House on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares Treasurer Wayne Swan with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Nicola Roxon after she delivered her valedictory speech on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Outgoing Liberal MP Judi Moylan with Nicola Roxon after she delivered her valedictory on Tuesday. Photo: Andrew Meares

Former Labor minister Nicola Roxon has given her farewell speech to Parliament, praising Julia Gillard as an “amazing Prime Minister” while cautioning the party not to allow its internal tensions to distract from its core mission.

Australia’s first female attorney-general also railed against continuing sexism in Australia, including the “crass” and “plain rude” behaviour that Ms Gillard has been subjected to for years.

As Labor continues to grapple with leadership tensions, Ms Roxon threw her support behind Ms Gillard, describing her as “an amazing Prime Minister, a great Labor leader and an impressive woman.”

“We should be proud of her and her work.”

But the Member for Gellibrand said she could not give her valedictory speech without acknowledging that it was a “hard time” for Labor.

“Even for true Labor believers there are times when it can feel frustrating.”

Ms Roxon issued a rallying call to Labor members and MPs, saying Labor was by its nature and causes “a party of optimists”.

“We can’t let the critics, the naysayers and the nasties define us,” she said. “The truth is, we might be down, but we’re not out.”

Acknowledging the party’s record on policies from Medicare to DisabilityCare Australia, Ms Roxon had a word of caution for her colleagues: “We’ve allowed internal tensions to overshadow our core mission for too long. We are a proud party with a proud record, now we need to start behaving like one.”

Ms Roxon, who was Australia’s first female Attorney-General, quit the front bench in a surprise move in February to spend more time with her young daughter. She also announced at the time that she would not recontest her Victorian seat of Gellibrand at the upcoming September election.

Ms Roxon, thanked her mother and husband Michael for their support during her ministerial career.

“Together, Michael and mum helped me manage a busy life as senior cabinet minister with a young child, the first woman to combine such roles.”

Despite celebrating some of Labor’s achievements for women – such as introducing paid parental leave – Ms Roxon said she could not help but “despair a bit on this front”.

“We have a capable, tough, smart, determined woman as our PM. Yet she had been subjected to some of the most crass, silly, petty, sexist and just plain rude behaviour for years.”

Talking of recent allegations about a degrading Defence email ring, Ms Roxon said there was a “dangerous underbelly” that still compromised women in Australia.

“The feminist cause in just as urgent as before.”

Ms Roxon, who was elected to Parliament in 1998, was health minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments before she became the first female attorney-general in December 2011.

The member for Gellibrand also said she “weirdly” needed to thank Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for providing the material for some of the most memorable moments of her political career.

This included the time he was late to a health policy debate during the 2007 election campaign and then swore at the then shadow health minister.

Ms Roxon also reminisced that her mother had once marched up to Kevin Rudd when he was prime minister and demanded that her daughter be given time off to get married.

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