WA senator Patrick Dodson is quitting Federal Parliament with a sense of sorrow that the Voice referendum failed but optimism about the future of reconciliation. But the man known as the father of reconciliation warned that Australia had a broader problem with social cohesion, not only between First Nations and non-Indigenous people, that it must tackle. Senator Dodson will retire on January 26, three days shy of his 76th birthday. He said cancer treatment throughout much of the year had left him unable to travel as much as he would like and physically unable to fulfil his duties as a senator. But he was able to see the lighter side, joking that although it was a great sign his beard was starting to grow back after rounds of chemotherapy, “the right side is growing more than the left … I don’t think I’ve grown any more conservative than I have been”. A week before the referendum, the Broome-based senator hinted at his future when he told The West if the result was a No vote, “I’ll be starting to climb the staircase to the moon”. Senator Dodson received a standing ovation from colleagues in Tuesday morning’s caucus meeting. He later said he believed Labor had the courage and commitment to continue pursuing reconciliation along with treaty, truth-telling, and regional voices. “I do leave this place with some sense of sorrow in that, as a nation, we were not able to really respond positively to the referendum … because I think that would have helped our country,” he said. “The 60-40 split of that vote makes it an Australian problem. It’s not an Aboriginal problem. “We need to seriously think now of the way in which our civil society knits together with this diversity and differences. We can’t take that for granted … It’s the legacy of the success of the No voters. “We now have, if we’re not careful, serious challenges to the underpinning social fabric of our society.” He wanted to see a twin focus on social justice and giving First Nations people economic independence. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese led tributes to Senator Dodson, describing him as a “wonderful Australian and an excellent human being”. “You would gladly follow him into battle yet he’s made it his life’s work to make peace,” he said. Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney said Senator Dodson had been a tireless advocate for the people of WA in Parliament, on top of his lifetime of work advancing reconciliation, while Premier Roger Cook described him as “one of the living treasures of Australian society”. Liberal MP Julian Leeser, who quit the shadow ministry in order to back the Voice referendum, said he would miss his friend’s presence in Parliament House, recalling how they had “argued, cajoled, listened and worked to find common ground” early on the process towards constitutional recognition. Senator Dodson was appointed the special envoy for reconciliation and the implementation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, but was sidelined from the referendum campaign after being diagnosed with cancer. On Monday he suggested Victorian senator Jana Stewart should be given the role, saying she was part of a new contingent of First Nations leaders who would continue to serve Labor and the Parliament well.