Speeches

Federal Parliament - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2020-2021

October 22, 2020

Dr ALYIt was about this time of the year in 2015 that I travelled to the United Kingdom on a research trip where I was looking at the motivations and the mobilisers of terrorism. I went on this research trip specifically to speak to former terrorist operatives, and I stress the word 'former'. It was around this time of year that I met a fellow by the name of Sean O'Callaghan. In the 1970s, Sean O'Callaghan was just a teenager when he joined the ranks of the IRA and became a fairly senior operative in part of the conflict in Northern Ireland. By the time he turned 20, Sean O'Callaghan was already an experienced terrorist. But, in November 1988, Sean O'Callaghan walked into a police station at Tunbridge Wells and handed himself in, confessing to his involvement in the murder of a Special Branch detective inspector in Northern Ireland in 1974. He pleaded guilty to a whole range of charges and, for his part in the IRA conflict, he was sentenced to 539 years—a pretty big sentence. Sean only served eight of those 539 years. He was granted a royal prerogative. The reason that he was handed this royal prerogative is that, before handing himself in, he had spent around 14 years as an undercover informant with the Garda, the Irish police force.

When I went to the UK, I wanted to meet with Sean O'Callaghan. He had several death threats and evaded attempts on his life by the IRA when his role as an informant came out. I was told that I had 15 minutes with him. I met him in a public cafe in Soho. Those 15 minutes turned into five hours, sitting there, drinking coffee and talking with a man who had spent a good part of his teenage years as a high-level terrorist operative involved in a very well-known conflict. When I first approached Sean, he looked me up and down and said, 'You're an academic.' I said, 'Yes; I am.' He said, 'I suppose you want to know why I joined the IRA and why I left the IRA?' I looked at him and I said, 'No, Mr O'Callaghan, I don't want to know that, because I've read your book.' He wrote a book called The Informer, which was on The New York Times bestseller list, by the way. He said, 'Well, why are you here and why do you want to meet me?' and I said, 'Because I want to know why it is that you do what you do now,' because for the last 10 years of his life, Sean O'Callaghan had devoted all his time to working with young violent offenders—getting them off the streets, getting them into employment and getting them onto a positive pathway of life.

Anyway, Sean and I sat there for five hours, and in the middle of all this Sean turned to me and said, 'You know, ehm'—because he was Irish—'life is just a series of negotiations, isn't it?' I looked at him and said, 'What do you mean by that, Sean—life is just a series of negotiations?' and he said: 'Well, you get up in the morning, you decide whether you're going to get in there, have a shower, get out there, go to work, do something positive, or whether you're going to stay in bed, whether you're going to drink, whether you're going to watch TV. You make choices. That's what life is. Life is about choices.' Then he said to me, 'But what if you never had a choice, or what if you never felt like you had a choice?' He said, 'It's not rocket science. All you need to do for these kids'—because he was talking about the young people that he worked with—'is give them a choice, give them an opportunity.'

That phrase, 'Life is just a series of negotiations', has stuck with me, and not just in my personal life. You know those days, when you're all frustrated and you'd just like to sit there? I just go: 'Life is just a series of negotiations, Anne. Life is just a series of negotiations.' It stuck with me not just for its personal relevance; it became the underlying philosophy for my charitable work and for the charity that I set up, working with young people: the idea that if you give somebody who doesn't feel like they have an opportunity, if you show them that they do have choices, that they do have opportunities and you guide them into making the right choice, you can change their lives—and not just their lives but the lives of their families, the lives of their community and ultimately the lives of an entire society for the betterment of our nation.

Indeed, I would say that that phrase, 'Life is just a series of negotiations', drives what I do here today. When I think of that phrase and I hear the Prime Minister say the phrase, 'Those who have a go get a go', it makes me think about what Sean O'Callaghan said. Yesterday in question time, our Prime Minister said 'If you're good at your job, you'll get a job.' I'm not so sure that they were ill-chosen words said in the heat of a debate. I think they speak to a much more deeper underlying philosophy, and I have to say that I don't think it hits the mark here. I don't think that it hits the mark. I think it's a very different philosophy to the philosophy that Sean O'Callaghan was imparting to me when he said, 'Life is just a series of negotiations'—the point that he was trying to get across—because who gets to have a go? Who?

How do we decide who gets to have a go, who gets our help, who gets to benefit from the policies of government? Shouldn't our policies, the settings that drive our economy—the settings that we have to grow jobs and develop the economy, particularly in the post-COVID era that we're hopefully moving into—benefit everyone? What if you're good at your job but you still can't get a job? What if you're good at your job but your job was ripped away from you, like it was for the thousands of university workers, tutors, lecturers and admin staff who have lost their jobs? I know many of those people. I worked with them. I know they're good at their jobs. I know they have a go. But they're not getting a go. What about the travel agents and the small-business owners who have lost their livelihoods? Do they deserve a go? I think they've had a go. I think they're good at their jobs. Do they deserve our help? Do they deserve to get a go?

Sean O'Callaghan passed away in 2017. I have to say that. No doubt the eight years that he spent in prison took a toll on his health. But he did some incredible work in the last two decades of his life, where he helped young people move into a positive future and gave them a chance at a positive future. I could have only hoped to emulate part of what he did in my own work with my charitable organisation, giving young people opportunities to get into work.

But I'm here now in a position, as we all are, to put into practice those words, to put into practice the idea that life is just a series of negotiations, to put into practice that philosophy that if you give people choice, if you give them opportunity, if you show them that there is opportunity and you guide them to those opportunities, then they have a better chance of contributing positively to our society, whether it's social participation, economic participation through a job, or through volunteering. Many of the young people who worked with me started out as volunteers for my organisation. One of them, who started out as a volunteer for my organisation, now works for the World Economic Forum in Geneva. He has met the Queen. I haven't even met the Queen.

An honourable member interjecting

DR ALY: I have met a queen, but I haven't met the Queen! This was a young fellow who came to Australia as a Somali refugee at the age of five. I am very proud of the work that he did with my organisation and the young man—he's just turned 28—that he's become.

I want to take the opportunity today to reflect on the words of Sean O'Callaghan. My husband, who works in law enforcement and security, was extremely worried that I was going to meet a former terrorist, who still had death threats and who was still under the watchful gaze of the IRA. He made me promise that I would call him as soon as the meeting was done. I remember walking back to my hotel in London that evening and calling my husband and gushing about the five hours that I had spent with Sean O'Callaghan. My husband, who was a former police officer, reminded me that this man had actually killed police and that he was a former terrorist. But I have met a lot of people who were terrorist operatives in their lives. All of them had turned their lives around in some way. All of them have said the same thing to me. All of them have spoken about opportunity. All of them have spoken about choice. All of them have spoken about this idea that if people feel that they don't have a choice and don't have an opportunity, then they turn their lives in negative ways.

In the last three minutes or so of my contribution today I want to come back to the budget and to JobKeeper and JobSeeker. The wage subsidies are something which Labor called for and which I commended the Government on providing during this—I hate the word 'unprecedented', but here it comes—unprecedented time. I commend the Government for providing these, but I would urge the Government to think of those words. I know the member for Moncrieff, I know the member for Goldstein, and I know that both of them personally have a commitment—I know that you do you, Deputy Speaker Zimmerman—you all have a commitment to providing opportunities for young people. I know you believe in that underlying philosophy that life is just a series of negotiations. I've had conversations with you, so I know. I truly believe that most of the people here are here for the right reasons. So I urge us all to think about those questions that I posed earlier. Who gets to have a go? We have an incredible opportunity here to ensure that everybody gets to have a go, to ensure that the people who most need it get to have a vision of their lives where there is an opportunity to do good and to contribute. We have that power right here, right now. Let's not squander that. Let's stay true to that philosophy of helping those who need it the most, of providing opportunity, of providing vision, of giving people hope—because that's what we all want.

Now, I have to brag a little bit here: yesterday my son got engaged.

An honourable member: Congratulations!

DR ALY: Thank you. It's been a long time coming! I am now negotiating the terms of grandmotherhood—but anybody who knows me knows there is no such thing as negotiation! Yesterday my son got engaged, and it was a particularly proud moment for me because I was a single mum. I know that all of us here who have children, stepchildren or young people in our lives in some capacity might have a lot of differences, but the thing that we have in common is that we want the next generation to have it better than we did. We want our kids to have an easier life than we did. We want them to have a better education. We want them to have more opportunities. We don't want them to face the hardships that we had to face. That's why we're here: to make it better for them, and the next generation, and the generation after that—for everyone's children. You will meet somebody who you think you will have nothing in common with, but, I guarantee you, if you sit there and you start talking to them about kids, about the future, about opportunity, you'll find something in common and you will form that bond that makes us all human.

On a final note, I repeat: life is just a series of negotiations. Let's negotiate a better way for our country.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Zimmerman): I thank the member for Cowan. I'm not quite sure what Mr O'Callaghan would think about that perfect Scottish accent that you spoke in!

An honourable member: Irish!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It sounded Scottish to me!

ENDS