Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Neville, Mr Paul Christopher, OAM
I have to say, over the Christmas break it was really sad news for me to hear of the passing of Paul Neville. I wanted to say some words in this Chamber. I worked closely with Paul for many years on the transport committee and I was very pleased to call him a friend. I think it's fitting that this parliament record his service to the nation, to this parliament and to the area that he loved.
Paul was the chair of the transport committee, in its various iterations, while his side of politics was in government, and then, when Labor was in government, I was the chair. We had this ongoing relationship as chair and deputy chair. From working with Paul on committees, I found him to be a person with an extraordinarily deep understanding of the transport policy area and a profound respect for the people who worked in the transport industry—we did a number of inquiries around the safety of road transport, air transport and so forth. Indeed, he was sometimes a bit of a thorn in his own government's side, because he was very passionate about these issues. He had no hesitation in holding any of us to account when he felt that we weren't measuring up on good economic policy through the transport part of our economy to make sure that the regions in particular were serviced and developed. I think that came out of his profound love for his own region. He was of course the chair of the committee when we did The great freight task report, and I think that report is testimony to the comments I've made about his policy work. It has stood the test of time as one of the most seminal, significant reports that has been done on freight transport in this country. I currently again sit on the transport committee, and the report is a reference point from which further reports and reviews have been conducted, and actions have been taken by governments of both sides around the very solid work that he, as chair, led in that report.
I have to say I well remember Paul was always very, very keen for us to visit his own seat as a committee! He was extraordinarily proud to show off the port, road and rail infrastructure, and also, I have to say, many of the excellent restaurants. He was very keen that the committees he was involved with carried that old tradition—which probably sadly is dying a bit in this place—of collegial work, getting together at the end of the day's inquiry, having a dinner together and sharing a respect for each other as parliamentarians, even as we may have debated the issues.
I always smile when I think of Paul. I just remember what a joy he was to be around as a person, even when you were having a bit of a debate about a policy area. He just had an abiding respect for people and a joy in everyday life. I will never ever forget the day he had a question in parliament and somebody—some evil comrade sitting next to him—said something like, 'Tell the frog joke,' or something like that, and poor old Paul got the giggles and the whole chamber was held up because every time he'd get control of it and try to ask the question again, the giggles would break out again. In fact, the whole chamber was laughing along with him at that point. It was a moment of that pure humanity and joy that I think he encompassed and that all of us in the chamber could feel in that moment. So it was a small moment, but I think it sort of encapsulated why so many people across all sides of the chamber really respected Paul, enjoyed his company and saw him as a great example of that old style of parliamentarian; the great respect for this place and the work of all members showed in everything that he did.
I know he profoundly loved his family. The other thing besides boasting about the seat—which the current member would know—was talking about how much he loved his family and how proud he was of them. I extend my sympathies on this occasion to his wife, Margaret, and to his children, Gavin, Gaye, Sally, Peter and Paul. Because Paul and I did so much committee work together, I also did a lot of work with his former staffer, Kate Barwick. I'm sure that she was a great support to Paul in his work, and I also found her to be a really valuable contact person, someone who worked very constructively to see that Paul's work in the committee was successful.
Paul retired in 2013 before that election. I am absolutely convinced that Paul would have squeezed every bit of joy out of every day of his retirement, and I'm glad that he had those years and I'm just really, really sad that he didn't have more, because he certainly deserved them after his years of service. My deepest respects to Paul and his family.
I rise to speak for Paul Christopher Neville, former member for Hinkler. He was born on 28 March 1940 and passed away on 1 January 2019, aged 78 years. I'm sure those who speak after me will talk about Paul's achievements and the great things he's done in this part of the parliament. I really want to try to convey some of his character.
Paul passed away peacefully on New Year's Day after declining health over a number of months. He was a man of faith; he was at peace with his fate and certainly faced that fate with tranquillity and grace. He was the beloved husband of Margaret, father and father-in-law of Gavin, Gaye, Sally and Earle Griffen, Paul and Caitlin, and Peter and Joelle; and of course the loving and adored grandfather of Amy, Micaella, Georgia, Angus, Hugh and Ava. He was the loved brother and brother-in-law of Gillian and John Nyhof, and Michael and Lisa.
In the week leading up to Paul's funeral service, I received a call and this voice called out, 'Keith, Paul Neville here.' I think that the bounds of silence from my end of the phone said very, very clearly that he should've said 'Paul Jr'. Can I say, in Paul Jr Mr Neville lives on; it's the same voice and the same mannerisms. Paul and Peter, the youngest twins, I actually went to school with at Kepnock High School. They were a couple of years younger than me. I competed with Peter in surf lifesaving. They were the same sort of people—passionate. Nothing gets in the way. They go hard at the things that they are chasing.
Paul was elected the member for Hinkler in March 1993, and he served in that office for 20 years, retiring in August 2013. He certainly wasn't there for the short game or the personal gain. He was what we should all aspire to be, and that is a local champion. He was a local champion, there for the long run, despite being in a marginal seat. He fought election after election and he won them all.
For Paul, it was about representing the people he served, his faith and his family. He was an old-style politician, more prone to having a chat over a cup of tea than getting into those media fights that others do, I guess, in the current parliament. He was always very, very keen for a smoko and to have a chat.
In fact, across the electorate and the boundaries that changed, Paul did a lot of miles on the road, like we all do in regional seats. I've got to say that he was not the greatest driver at the time. Paul was not the best behind the wheel. In fact, we travelled to an event in 2013, and I clearly remember being on a very straight section of road at 100 kilometres an hour. Off in the distance, I could see a line of ducks crossing the road, and I thought: 'Oh, well, I'm sure Mr Neville will slow down soon. I'm sure he's going to put his foot on the brake soon.' About 400 yards out, I said: 'Paul, duck! Paul! Duck! Duck! Duck!' It got a bit faster and a bit more frantic, and in a cloud of smoke and screeching tyres—and I'm still not sure how the airbags didn't go off—we stopped to let the ducks pass. And Paul looked over at me and he said, 'Oh, "duck"!' He said, 'I thought you said'—and I'll let Hansard take its own conclusion, Mr Deputy Speaker! He was that sort of character.
In fact, at his valedictory dinner in Bundaberg, we had about 130 or 140 people attend. Mr Neville spoke for 77 minutes and had to be removed from the podium. He continued on into the night, and I recall some of the comments from those who attended, particularly from our colleagues. Many of the Nationals showed up, and many former members and people from business. I very clearly recall an experienced senator who had been around for a long time, who on the way up at about a quarter past 12, after a 77-minute speech and yours truly having to do the wrap-up, said to me, 'Well, son, in this game, you go to a lot of these events.' He said, 'Most of them you just don't remember, but I'll never forget the day I came to Bundaberg and Paul Neville spoke for 77 minutes.' He said, 'I started off drunk and I finished up sober!' It was a great way to send him out. But Paul was just one of those characters.
There have been such strong reflections locally from constituents and from those on the opposite side of politics, which I think is very important. The celebration of Paul's life at the Holy Rosary Catholic church in Bundaberg I think was a fitting and dignified service attended by so many of his current and former colleagues. In fact, on my count, there were almost 50 dignitaries at the event, including former Prime Minister John Howard. Can I place on record my thanks to the Hon. John Howard for making the effort to attend. I think it was a great reflection of his friendship with Paul and certainly for his family. I think Margaret, for her part, appreciated the fact that everyone made that effort. In fact, Mr Howard spent his time handing out cups of tea and biscuits. That's just the kind of people they were. And, of course, Warren Truss, the former long-term member for Wide Bay and Deputy Prime Minister, was a very close friend of both Paul and Margaret Neville. He has been incredibly saddened, I know, by his passing.
It was always an interesting time when you were dealing with Paul Neville. He was always good for a joke and a laugh. He was always keen to put forward his point of view. As I said, the service was incredibly dignified, attended by people from across the spectrum of politics, including the former Labor member Brian Courtice. I've got to say that we all get on reasonably well now, even though we were on opposite sides of politics. I actually rang Brian on the day that Paul passed away, just to confirm that he was still there, because we lost another former member for Hinkler, Bryan Conquest, just 12 months or so ago. So there are two of us at the moment. Certainly it's a great loss for Margaret, for the family, for our local constituencies, for Paul's church and for all of the community organisations he was involved with.
In closing, I just want to say a couple of brief comments about Paul Neville himself. Anyone that had spent any time with Paul, that had had a conversation with him, regardless of whether it was around a constituency matter, a matter of policy, a matter of the nation's security or economic security—from the top down to the bottom, from the smallest and youngest individual through to some of the most important or those with very difficult positions, whether you were a prime minister or a plumber, Paul Neville always had time for you. When you had a conversation with Paul Neville, you always knew who did most of the talking: it was Paul Neville! May he rest in peace, Paul Christopher Neville. Vale Paul. My best wishes to his family in their time of grief.
It is with a tinge of sadness but great joy that I have the opportunity to reflect on my great friend, former colleague and, in many ways, mentor, Paul Neville. I congratulate the current member for Hinkler for his comments. His reflections very much sat with mine in terms of what a character Paul was.
Many will speak here today. His National Party brothers and sisters will speak about Paul's wicked sense of humour. Indeed, he took great joy in sharing jokes—normally around whips' drinks—and quite often the same joke week after week, but often told with more flamboyance on every occasion. He was quite the raconteur in that regard. He was also a great intellect, Deputy Speaker McVeigh. I've had the great privilege of sitting around the cabinet table, as you have. Paul would have matched any of those men and women who sat around the cabinet table with me. He had a great intellect.
He had an enormous degree of personal integrity. Paul was someone who would be your friend, and friend for life. He wasn't a fairweather friend. He wasn't someone who had false airs and graces. He was someone who would gather friends as others collect stamps or collect coins. Friends seemed to gather around Paul and enjoy his company enormously. He also had an incredibly generous spirit. He was one who was very giving to those who were in his friendship circle, and that was a very large friendship and family circle. Indeed, he had enormous pride in his family's achievements. I think the measure of Paul in many ways is the fact that he crossed party lines in this place. There are many on the other side of the chamber who had great positive experiences in dealing with Paul because of that integrity, because of that generous spirit. He had friends on both sides of the chamber.
I want to share a few memories here today in the time I have allowed. A couple of reflections on Paul—it would take me all day to go through all the stories, but there are a couple that spring to mind. Paul always claimed that he was the first politician to ever darken the doors of Portia's restaurant in Kingston. He claimed he was the first ever politician to have dinner at Portia's. He would take great delight in telling that story every time we went out for dinner. If you asked Paul, 'Where are we going for dinner?' he'd say, 'Maybe Italian, maybe—let's go to Portia's.' We never went anywhere else. He took great delight in telling me that story on every occasion. He knew the menu backwards, and the staff loved him dearly.
Paul is also the member of parliament responsible for me crossing the floor in my first term in this place. Paul, as you'd be well aware, represented the seat of Hinkler, which is home to the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. In my first term of parliament, the issue of ready-to-drink alcohol products and the Rudd government's plan to increase the tax on them was causing quite a heated debate. The coalition had taken a view that it was going to oppose the legislation. I supported that view, but somewhere in the debate the coalition's position changed—except Paul Neville and I didn't change our position. As it came to pass, the only time I ever crossed the floor was to try to get cheaper grog for Paul Neville. Anyway, I digress. We both crossed the floor on the alcopops tax. We used to revel in that every time we shared a drink.
The member for Hinkler, my colleague, just spoke about Paul's farewell speech. I'm sure many of our colleagues will reflect on that evening, where Paul spoke and spoke and spoke and spoke. Margaret, his beautiful wife, tried to wind him up on at least five occasions, and Paul kept on ploughing through. It was when he told the same joke for the third time that we realised that Paul was ready to sit down. It was a great night.
I didn't get to Paul's funeral—sadly, I had other commitments—but I'm going to share from my great friend and one of Paul's long-time staff members, Cath Heidrich. Cath spoke at Paul's funeral and gave a eulogy, which was quite beautiful. I'd encourage anyone who knew Paul to get a copy of Cathy's speech on that day. In her description at the church, as she gave the eulogy, Cath quoted from the federal Nationals' leader Larry Anthony, who said, quite beautifully, 'Paul had a heart as big as Phar Lap's, the compassion of Mother Teresa, the tenacity of John Howard and the humour of Rowan Atkinson.' That sums up our great friend. I will quote from a couple of other things that Cath said in her eulogy. She said:
I have known Paul and Margaret for most of my life. Paul helped me to secure my cadetship at the Bundaberg News Mail and I lived with the Neville clan at Limpus Cresent for a few months. Years later I worked for Paul until his retirement from politics.
Paul won the seat of Hinkler in 1993, defeating Labor's Brian Courtice who is here today, and his ability to win tight elections in his seat are legendary—winning again in 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010. The 2001 win was particularly close—69 votes, 64 votes on recount, and the result was not known for 13 days. During that time Paul came here, to this church, to contemplate and pray.
He was a man of great faith. Cath continued:
In 2007, Paul faced another hurdle after a redistribution saw the boundaries of Hinkler change dramatically, losing Gladstone and gaining Hervey Bay.
At the last election he contested, in 2010, Paul won every booth—a tremendous feat.
His dedication to his role as Federal Member was unsurpassed. He never thought anyone's time was more important than anyone elses.
I worked with Paul when he fought on behalf of the legendary Major Harry Smith for recognition for his troops in the Battle of Long Tan. Paul was instrumental in making sure that the troops were properly recognised many years after that battle. I will continue with Cath's comments. This is one of the stories that I think many in the National Party room have heard before, but Cath told it beautifully on this occasion. She said:
Of course one of his most famous trips was with Margaret to a wedding in Rockhampton. En route he called into a township called Ambrose between Gladstone and Rockhampton, where in 1993, five booths had swung against him. Paul was keen to speak with some locals and try and work out what he could do to improve his standing. It was mid Saturday morning. There was no one in the pub, the shop or the streets on the eastern side. Moving to the west, it was almost the same but as they rounded a corner near the State School, up loomed a CWA Hall with 50 or more cars around it.
Jackpot!—it was Paul's chance to engage with the town in one hit. Margaret felt the locals might have been getting ready for a wedding or a dance that night.
So, bold as brass, and full of confidence, Paul bounced in and said to the ladies who were feverishly going here and there—"well girls, what's on here today?"
Paul had gate crashed a country pap smear clinic.
Let it be known that Paul Neville went literally everywhere for a vote!
With Paul's self-deprecating humour, he'd tell that story with great relish on many occasions, and it still remains one of my favourite memories of Paul as a grassroots campaigner. He would stop and talk to anyone in his electorate and spend time with them.
In his valedictory speech, Paul said he looked back over his 20 years in parliament feeling the exhilaration of success, the stings of failure, the warmth of colleagues on both sides and the common humanity of the people he had been privileged to serve, and now it was time to move on. In closing, I feel blessed to have had both Paul and Margaret Neville in my life. The National Party family—and the member for Dawson is here with me today—is certainly richer for characters of Paul's depth and just decent humanity to one another.
It is my great pleasure to rise to speak on this condolence motion. Sadly, it is a condolence motion, but it is my pleasure nonetheless to speak in honour of my former colleague and good friend Paul Neville. Paul Christopher Neville was the member for Hinkler for a long time. When I was a grassroots member of the Queensland Nationals I would see Paul at conferences, but I came to know him personally when I came to this place when I was elected in 2010. My office was sandwiched in between the then deputy whip Paul Neville's office and the whip's office of the member for Parkes. That office placement might have been a happy accident or it may have been designed to ensure that, as a new member—who they weren't so sure about—I benefited from the guidance of the elder statesman of the Nationals. In using the word 'elder', I do refer to the member for Hinkler, with no reflection on the member for Parkes. In that office placement, I had many occasions to experience the charm, the wit, of Paul Neville as he regularly held court in the whip's office, regaling us with joke after joke and story after story. He was one of the great raconteurs in this place, with an endless repertoire of jokes, most of which—most, not all—could be told in polite company and could be put on Hansard. The frog joke has been mentioned time and again in these speeches. I won't retell the frog joke, because it's already been recorded in Hansard. Paul told it in his valedictory speech to this place, so it will live on for posterity.
He was much more than a fine teller of jokes, though. What also will live on for posterity—people have referred to it—is the 77-minute speech, timed almost down to the second, that he gave at a function that the Liberal National Party held for Paul Neville in Bundaberg. It was his valedictory to his community, I guess. While others, as has been said here, started off drunk and ended up sober by the end of the speech, I, knowing Paul, had positioned myself right beside the bar so I didn't have that problem. For me it was a great speech. Actually I recorded the start of it, where he did another infamous thing that Paul was known for—he composed his own operatic-style song, about Sol Trujillo. If people want to look at it later—it just is Paul's wit—he actually sang the song in full and it's on YouTube, because I've uploaded it.
He loved his entire electorate of Hinkler and he loved the people that he served. He was a master at working his electorate. He took it when it was a marginal seat. He recalled to me the time when it was down to the wire and he was waiting days, perhaps even more than a week, for the result. As the person of faith that he was, he went down to his local church—I suspect it was the one that his funeral was held in—and he sat there in silence and just prayed. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen. It was then that one of his staff members actually walked in and told him that he had been re-elected. It was a very marginal seat, and he took it in the end to a margin of over 10 per cent. That was a reflection of Paul Neville and his abilities as an MP.
Paul wasn't a politician; he was truly a parliamentarian, one of the gentlemen of this House. That's what I will remember Paul for, and I'm not the only one. The member for Hinkler before Paul was mentioned earlier: Brian Courtice. He reflected on Paul's 20 years of successful election campaigning and he said:
Anyone who can hold the seat (of Hinkler) for that amount of time has considerable political acumen.
He achieved so much. He had his finger on the pulse and he understood politics. I think that his ability to win those elections was not because of his campaigning, although he did a lot of that. It was because of his reputation in his community and what he did for his community. He won in 1993, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010, and no doubt he would have won if he had decided to go on. I remember he was umming and ahing because he realised that he was getting on and he wanted to spend more time with his beloved wife, Margaret, who is just a wonderful, wonderful woman, and his family and his grandchildren, who he was just so passionate about. I've already regaled you with the fact that it came down to the wire—69 votes—in one of those elections. That was what he won by. After serving for those 20 years, he left on a high, having won every booth in 2010—it is a great reflection on any member of parliament when you carry the support of your entire community in every single place—and left that seat in great shape for his successor, the now member for Hinkler.
Paul credited much of his success to his beloved wife, Margaret. He described how her commitment from day one 'door-to-door, backs of trucks, stalls and markets and endless public meetings' helped him win every electoral battle that he went into. In 2013, Paul said:
It was her from-the-heart undoctored handwritten letters to the electorate that won me more votes than you can possibly imagine. You would go to a function after one of her letters went out and no-one would want to talk to me but they'd say, 'Is your wife here? How are the two sets of twins?'
They were a team. That's why I feel very sad for Margaret, losing her life partner. They lived that from-the-heart creed. My deepest condolences go out to Margaret and to all the Neville family. Yes, there were two sets of twins—Gavin and Gaye, and Peter and Paul—as well as Sally.
Paul was a man of regional Queensland, born in Warwick in 1940. He was passionate about the arts. That's probably one of the things people didn't know so much if they didn't know Paul Neville too well. He was the manager of the Moncrieff Theatre in Bundaberg, formerly the Crest Cinema. He managed the Bundaberg District Tourism and Development Board. He was, like me, a former state president of the Queensland Young Nationals.
Following his first election, he became the National Party whip from 1998 until his retirement in 2013. It's been said before that he was really engaged with his work on parliamentary committees, and that's been commended by speakers from the Labor Party here today. He served on a large number of committees. He was the chair of the Communications, Transport and Microeconomic Reform Committee. He was passionate about that. He pestered everyone, even his own side, about doing the right thing by regional communities when it came to communications. He was chair of that committee again when it morphed into the Communications, Transport and the Arts Committee, and also of the Transport and Regional Services Committee. He served as chair on all of those committees, and did a fine job in putting forth recommendations which changed policy and, ultimately, became the law of this land. The reform in radio is one of those.
To cap it all off, it was fitting that on Australia Day—sadly, after his passing—Paul Christopher Neville was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of his contribution to this nation and, particularly, to the Bundaberg community, which he continued to serve well after he left this place.
I will miss Paul. I will miss him immensely. I will miss the jokes—we even called him up at whips' drinks, after he was gone, to say, 'Hey, Paul, tell us another one of your jokes.' We won't be able to do that now, but we'll never forget. He was a great man.
I'm really honoured to be able to say a few words about my friend Paul Neville today. The last time I spoke about Paul Neville was at his retirement, in the National Party party room. I was also very honoured at that time to be able to say a few words in Paul's presence about how much his friendship meant to me. He truly was one of the best and most decent people I have served with in this place. The passing of Paul Neville is a great loss to his family, of course, to his community and to our country. The member for Longman has just told me a story that I didn't know about Paul and Margaret: they put her up for a few months when she was moving to attend school, without any question, without any thought of benefit for themselves. That's just the sort of decent people they were.
Paul Neville and I probably first met because of the parliamentary friends of Slovenia friendship group. My parents are from a Slovenian background, but Paul was as much an enthusiast for Slovenia as anybody could have been and spoke about his trips there, the times that he had travelled there. He used to talk about the magnificent agricultural produce in Slovenia, and the countryside and the people. That gave us a first point of bonding.
The thing that I liked and respected about Paul so much was the seriousness with which he undertook his role as a parliamentarian, representing the people of his electorate, but also the lightness of touch he had with that seriousness. He was never anything other than completely dedicated to his work and to his community but, with that, he had a mischievous sense of humour that lightened the touch. I'm sorry I didn't hear the previous speakers, but no doubt the frog joke got a bit of an airing today! It said so much about Paul Neville that, by the end of his time here in the parliament, he couldn't even hear the call for the frog joke to be told without dissolving into giggles. He had, as I said, a light touch and a mischievous sense of humour that was truly delightful.
I don't find myself often agreeing with John Howard, but I recall the former Prime Minister said that Paul Neville truly had his finger on the pulse of regional Australia. I can't begin to agree with that enough. He was an absolutely classic old-school country gentleman, to the extent that, when I was campaigning against him in his seat, for the Labor candidate, we ran into each other and he said, 'We must have lunch next time you're up here; I'd like to show you the sights of my electorate'—absolutely typical of the courtesy and decency of the man.
I'm really grateful to the leader of the National Party for calling me after he heard of Paul Neville's death and letting me know. He knew what high regard I held his friend in. It was a very sad task, but I was pleased that I was able to call his family and pass on my regards, because there are truly not many people that I have served with in my 20 years here of whom I could honestly and in the most heartfelt way say that he was respected by everyone, from whatever party background you are talking about, regional community or city community. Again the essential decency of the man prevailed at every time, in every instance.
I want to send a message to his wife, Margaret, and to the Neville family. I know that their more than 50 years together truly was an extraordinary partnership between Paul and Margaret. As the member for Longman has pointed out, so much of the work they did for the community was the work of the two of them together. I'm sure there were times when Margaret, the children and the grandchildren missed Paul while he was down here, and I'm pleased that he had those years at home after he retired to be able to show his love and affection to the family that we all know he treasured so very much. Every time we saw Paul out of hours here in Canberra, Margaret was often with him, but his talk about his children and grandchildren was so full of love and affection as well. His family, his colleagues and his community have my deepest sympathy.
I acknowledge the words—the fine words, the eloquent words—of the member for Sydney, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, of the Labor Party. I also acknowledge the fact that she is probably the only one from her party who has addressed the modern National Party in the party room. That was an allowance we made because we knew of the special bond and affection that Paul Neville and Tanya Plibersek had for one another. I think that goes to show the uniqueness of Paul. He was always able to reach across the aisle. He always put people ahead of politics. He had a deep and abiding affection, as I said, for Tanya. That bond continued. That is why I did call her early on 1 January to tell her the sad news that Paul had passed away. I appreciate the fact you have come in here in this condolence motion to recall your memories of a great man. He was, indeed, a great man.
I've just come from a meeting with Commercial Radio Australia representatives Joan Warner and Grant Blackley. When it came to telecommunications, particularly regional telecommunications, Paul Neville was a champion. No telecommunications policy was ever put through the parliament unless it had Paul Neville's imprimatur on it. He certainly made sure there was a better deal for regional Australians when it came to radio, television and print outcomes. He made sure that, whether it was commercial television or the ABC, we were looked after in the bush—as far as being able to get the right media message out and to ensure that the message was being received here in Canberra. John Howard, the former Prime Minister, used Paul as his sounding board in that regard.
There are those who say that politics is a vocation and some are called to the service of others through medicine, through teaching or even holy orders. There are some for whom election to this House is such a calling, such a vocation, and Paul Neville OAM was one of those people. I'm glad to say 'OAM'; he was honoured posthumously in the Australia Day honours. He knew he was going to receive an honour, but what a great shame he didn't get to receive that honour in person. His gregarious personality and generous approach to life was a hallmark of P-Nev's grassroots politics. Across the Hinkler electorate, no matter the person, the community or the issue, Paul's approach was the same: if it mattered to them, it mattered to him.
Whilst the stroke of midnight on 1 January can spring hope and optimism, it was with sadness that we heard of the loss of our dear friend. He was a giant of the Nationals, he was a giant of the LNP and he was a giant of the parliament. His infectious wit and country charm—he had those in spades. He had a passion for the arts. His love for Margaret, the children and the grandchildren was what defined Paul and embodied the gentleman he was in every sense of the word.
I was very, very fortunate because I sat next to P-Nev in my first term—his last—in the parliament. I recall that, one day, I was being rather loud during question time. I can't remember whether it was Wayne Swan or Julia Gillard at the dispatch box but I was being rather loud and so was George Christensen, who was sitting on my right. I received a message from Catherine Heidrich, in George's office, to wake P-Nev up. He had had a cancer taken out of his ear. The next thing you know, P-Nev was against me, and I'm trying to prop Paul up and continue my tirade.
Paul was a great contributor to the parliament and to the debate, but he wasn't well in the last year of parliament. Unfortunately, and obviously, the last few months of his life were a struggle. But he never lost optimism and never lost sight of thinking of other people, making sure other people came first, making sure that his electorate was being well heard and that the delivery was there for them. Catherine Heidrich gave one of the greatest eulogies I've ever heard. There were two. The other one was delivered by Mike Edgar, a long-term Labor voter. I think that probably says something about P-Nev—the fact he had those two deliver the eulogy for him.
Paul's story is a uniquely Australian one. He was drawn to service by the love of his community and a belief that his party was the one to serve it best. He was a former theatre supervisor and he used his place in parliament to transform country communications and to leave it better, bringing common sense to the country's parliament. He certainly did that. As a boy, he would sit up on election night, listening to the radio with a pad and pencil, writing it down to try and figure out who would win the individual seats. He described representing the people of Hinkler in this place as 'the fulfilment of my long-held dreams'. And so it was that he would take on the cause and the campaign of the people of Hinkler—for the most part, as one of parliament's most marginal seats—where a passion and a dedication for his people was second to none. He always lived by that.
Through the rough-and-tumble of politics, which at one election saw him win his seat by just 64 votes, Paul maintained the charm and the stories for which he was so famous. As the years went by, Paul, ever the raconteur, accumulated a lifetime of stories, including the frog joke, and experiences with characters that would leave his guests in tears of laughter, even if you'd heard the story many, many times before. No matter the retelling, you'd still laugh at the punchline. The story about the country Pap smear clinic, retold so well by Catherine in the eulogy; the frog joke; the song about Sol Trujillo—you've heard them a hundred times, but each time they were just as funny.
He and I sat next to one another in my first term in this place, as I said. Paul, the wily veteran, sat alongside the members for Riverina and Dawson to impart his wisdom and his decorum. The decorum bit didn't always work, but I think Paul got there in the end. It was there I saw his respect across the chamber; it was very, very clear. From committee work and his years around the place, Paul received universal love and affection, and that's been shown today. Many colleagues shared their affection and memories of Paul, such was the high regard in which he was held in this place.
I was privileged to call in on Paul and Margaret late last year for a cuppa, during a visit to Bundaberg, at his home at Olympus Crescent in Bundy. We sat on his famous verandah, from which GANGgajang composed 'Sounds of Then'. That song was released in 1985. It's obviously an iconic Australian song, but it was written on Paul's back patio. As you sit there and listen to the words, you can see the cane fields in the distance and the odd-shaped block and you can almost hear Paul Neville's patriotism coming through the words of that wonderful song. We laughed, we shared jokes and we talked about the good times. We talked about the future ahead. Paul had great optimism—for his beloved Nationals, for the LNP and for the future of Australia. He and his wife, Margaret, ever the partnership, just celebrated 50 years of marriage and the love of their family. The joy for both of them on that day, and every day, was clear. Gavin and Gaye, Sally, Peter and Paul, the wonderful children of Paul and Margaret—we all miss him very, very dearly.
He was rightly honoured with an Order of Australia medallion in the recent awards. It's a testament to his lifetime of service to his community, to his family and to this nation. He was a gentleman. He was a giant of this parliament. He will be sadly, sadly missed. Vale, Paul Neville. Rest in peace.
In the last term of the Howard government, I was at a function in the Great Hall. Paul's health had been fading somewhat, but all the time he was a delight to be around. I remember, whilst the Prime Minister of Australia was speaking, Paul had a little bit of a turn. His head was on the table, flat out. The doctor from Western Australia, from the Liberal Party, Mal Washer, came across, and we all went to Paul's table. He said, 'He'll be right, but perhaps you can quietly take him back to his room.' And it wasn't inebriation; he'd had a slight turn. As I took him out of the Great Hall, his strides fell down! His own response was, 'Listen, man, pull up my strides!' So I reached down with one hand and pulled them up by the belt. I was looking at him and I said, 'Paul, this is not the time to be mooning John Howard!' Everything with Paul was a delight.
Not long after that, some of his staff approached me and said: 'Could you have the hard conversation with Paul. I think it's time—for himself, for Margaret and for his family—that he spend his time at home. No-one wants to go out of here having their last days in this place.' I went around to see Paul and I said, 'Paul, I have to have a very difficult conversation with you.' He said: 'There are no difficulties between you and me, Barnaby. We are close friends, close mates. I'll just grab a bottle of red wine. Fire away.' I remember looking down and saying, 'Paul, I want you to retire,' and the conversation stopped. What I can say about Paul is that he was never vindictive, he was never nasty and he never had a bad word. He went quiet and, later on, came back and said, 'I accepted that. I think that was the appropriate thing to do and the appropriate conversation to have.'
Every day was a joy with Paul. There were so many jokes! But some of them were off-colour. You just can't repeat them. Paul could say them but no-one else could. He had one about a Yorkshire man and a border collie, and you'd wait and think, 'Oh my God, the punchline is going to come and then the room is going to disappear under the table!' He told of a Yorkshire man to whom a person was saying, 'You've got a lovely dog,' to which the Yorkshire man replied, 'I have a lovely dog. It's a border collie, you know.' The man asked, 'What's its name?' to which the Yorkshire man replied, 'His name is Francis Bacon.' The man said 'Francis Bacon?', to which the Yorkshire man replied, 'No, Fancies Bacon.' The man asked, 'Why would you call your dog Fancies Bacon?' The Yorkshire man replied, 'Oh, he has a distinct love of pigs!' And everyone said, 'Well, there you go!'
An honourable member: He told it a lot better!
He told it a lot better—and probably with a definite lexicon in certain areas! One of the great tragedies is that Paul was never a minister. He certainly deserved to be one. He was a shadow parl sec for a very brief period of time. I say that because his knowledge in certain areas was absolutely exemplary—especially in the communications field, which was his personal love. He wanted to make sure regional areas were well-heard and did not have to deal with syndicated coverage from the major capitals; he thought that was a complete usurping of the fundamental right of having your own story heard by local people. And he drove media ownership within the coalition—he definitely did. He had to be respected. You had to get a tick-off from Paul before you made a major change. He might not have been a minister but if he decided to confront you in the party on some of the issues, you'd lose because his knowledge was exemplary.
He was a very sophisticated and well-polished person. Once I was at mass with him and my parents at St Stephen's Cathedral in Brisbane. My mother, who is vastly more polished than me, was talking to Paul, to whom I'd introduced her. She said, 'That final hymn was marvellous. Was that Brahms?', and Paul said, 'The 2nd one? No, that was Mozart's 3rd.' I just looked at him and thought, 'You're no fool. You're a very intelligent person.' And he came with a strong sense of the aesthetic. His love of the arts was something that showed another side to his character.
Paul was a brilliant marginal seat campaigner. Both sides of politics have them. I'll call one out. Chris Hayes is a brilliant one for the Labor Party. They are given a hard job and they go out and do it. In state politics, there is Thomas George. Give them a hard job and they'll go out and do it—and Paul did it. I'll try to refer colleagues to his style. His style was not to be adversarial but to be absolutely diligent about the needs and requirements of people. He saw being the local member as doing public service on the small issues. If you do that public service well on the small issues, helping people with their pensions and helping people with other requirements, where you are the final hope for that person—you're their final hope, Obi-Wan Kenobi!—people will follow you as a person and respect your work ethic. Driving around with Paul was incredible. He'd say, 'See that street there? There's Mrs Smith, who lives at No. 5. I'm pretty sure she voted for me at the last election but I think I might have lost her, because I've been speaking to her lately.' That is the micromanagement that he had for the people. And he'd say why, he'd say the issue. That's how he worked.
Another story concerns a very, very tough town for the coalition, Mount Morgan. It's absolutely strongly Labor—always has been. The street names are from miners and they are named after parts of Ireland and Cornwall. You could say that things haven't changed much since the mine was opened. Paul could never win the seat but he decided he'd make an all-out effort in Mount Morgan. I think he had got 364 votes in the last election. So he built a bridge. He raised money and got a bridge built that was named after Private Jones, who was the first serviceman killed in action while fighting under the auspices of Australia—before that it was New South Wales, Queensland, the colonies. He built this bridge, and everyone went up, and at the next election he got 365 votes! So he said, 'That bridge, which cost so much, got me a vote!' But it was the attention to detail.
I really want to convey to Margaret and the Neville family how fondly Paul was thought of. You must realise that he was the centre of the conversation at any time the party had drinks, a meal or something that was not part of the official process. He was an absolute dilettante. When he was taking notes at party room meetings, he had a very fine script, and he was an absolute dilettante about everything that was happening in that meeting, who was saying what and what their position was. You would not get him on details. You could not re-ascribe what you might have said, because he had noted it. He would sit at the table and note everything absolutely.
He was very close to Warren Truss. They were the best of mates and of a similar ilk. He continued on in his role with an absolute passion, and he never had a fit of pique; he might have wished to have a higher office, but—very similar to Senator 'Wacka' Williams—he was absolutely certain that he could do his job from whatever position the parliament had given him.
The start of my knowledge of Paul came from him at state conference. He loved the National Party's state conference and he would occupy the microphone on virtually every second issue—he apparently had a position on them. He loved the sense of being a representative of the rank and file members of the party, and they respected him immensely for the fact that he took the rank and file section of the party and treated it with absolute respect. He would be their champion and fight their issues. So vale Paul Christopher Neville. May you rest in peace. I'm absolutely certain that a person who has lived the tenor of your life has nothing to expect in what comes after except the very, very best, in a reflection of a very, very well-lived life.
As Barnaby suggested and knew, Paul was not born in Bundaberg, but he spent most of his life in Bundaberg. In fact, Paul was born in Warwick on 28 March 1940. In his early life, he moved to Bundaberg and he was the manager of Birch Carroll & Coyle, which was the movie operator in Bundaberg then and still is. That's where he met his wife, Margaret. She was a sugar chemist in one of the sugar mills in Bundaberg. Of course, they went on to have a very, very happy life.
On the day before he died, the priest and Margaret and close family were called to his bedside, and said, 'Paul, things are not looking too good, mate,' which he accepted. They said, 'You could last three to four weeks, but you could go any time,' and Paul accepted that, and he died in the early hours of New Year's Day of this year. Posthumously, he was awarded, in the Australia Day awards, an Order of Australia. Although it wasn't presented to Paul, he knew about it, and knew it was coming, and he was very appreciative of the fact that his colleagues, his friends, had recommended him for that award. And it was justly deserved.
He served 20 years and four months in parliament. He always corrected me when I said 20 years; he always added, 'Plus four months'. It was a great 20 years and four months. In fact, the seat of Hinkler went into my current seat of Flynn. Hinkler was a pretty big seat in those days, but in 2007 we had a redistribution of boundaries. Flynn became Flynn and it gave Paul the Bundaberg-Hervey Bay area, which he liked. He loved that area. But he also had very good, close ties to places like Gladstone and Ambrose—where he went into that hall, and that's where he got caught with the Pap smear tests! Margaret still laughs her head off about that. Paul used to always like to butt into a gathering. On this particular day, as was told at his funeral, he'd seen all these cars parked outside of the Ambrose hall, so he had to go inside. He thought there was a gathering of some sort. When he got inside, Paul said, 'What's going on here today?' They said: 'Oh, we're conducting women's Pap smear tests. Do you want to join in?' Margaret thought that was a great joke.
After he retired from politics at the age of 72—that was back in 2013—we had a great celebration in Bundaberg. His colleagues came from all over the eastern coast of Australia to that farewell. The hall was packed. Unplanned, I suppose, Michael McCormack, now the Deputy Prime Minister, was the chairman for the night. After one hour and seventeen minutes of Paul speaking—and a lot of people had fallen asleep—Paul went on, and really protested when Michael went up and gave him the wind up!
I'll tell a little story. Paul had a big morning coming up the next morning. He said to the chairman of Bundaberg Sugar, Allan Dingle, that he had to go to the toilet. When Allan realised that he'd been gone for some time, he gave him a ring on the phone and said: 'How are you going, mate? Are you all right?' He said: 'Yeah, I'm good. I'm home in bed!' It was an outstanding speech.
At the end of the night, Paul said, 'There are a lot of things I could have said that I didn't say in that speech,' but the chairman reminded him that it would have taken another two hours to get through it all! He was a delightful fellow. It was amazing at his funeral service that he had at least five priests conducting the service. Nowadays, Catholic priests are hard to come by in regional areas, and sometimes they have fill-ins, but there you were. I've never seen it in my life before, but he had five Catholic priests at his funeral. It was a great tribute to Paul.
He's gone now, but he won't be forgotten for many years for serving parliament and serving the people of Bundaberg. The Hinkler Hall of Aviation was one of his pets. He did a lot of good things for Bundaberg and Gladstone, which was formerly in Hinkler. The bridge on Kirkwood Road is named after Paul. Quite often he would ask: 'Ken, have you been out along Kirkwood Road? Is my name still on the bridge?' 'Yes, she's still there, Paul!' 'Good on ya.'
It was sad, but he knew that he was coming to the end of his life. Friends and I went to see him a couple of months before he passed. He still had very good jokes. The same jokes he's told for 20 years, but he still told them to us! We asked him if he could give us a little song, and he did give us a song. Then the day nurse came and took him inside. I thought that was the last time I would probably see Paul. He had a lot of medical problems. We thought we'd lost him probably six months before that. I got a phone call on a Friday night to say that we probably wouldn't see Paul again. His family were being called in from Perth, and they came quickly. The next morning, Saturday morning, when the phone rang I thought, 'Well, here's the bad news coming.' They said, 'Oh, no, Paul's sitting up in bed having breakfast.' That was the warning, but he took the warning and had all of his affairs in order. A great man; a great life.