Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


5:29 pm

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

It could be true! Chris actually beat me into the ministry by some three months, which, of course, I think appropriately reflects his superior talents. I served as the first Special Minister of State in our government, and then Chris succeeded me in that role after the 1998 election. It is interesting that between Chris Ellison, Eric Abetz and me, we occupied what is known as the SMOS role collectively for just over eight years as successive special ministers of state. As Senator Faulkner would know, you discover quite a lot about your colleagues as the SMOS. So Chris, Eric and I have a very special bond born out of service in that particular role.

I was lucky enough to be elevated to cabinet at the end of 1998. It is with great regret that I note that Chris did not join me in the cabinet room until March of 2007. Chris had nearly 10½ years as a minister—a great record—but, very regrettably, only nine months in the actual cabinet. I have to say that, frankly, I could never understand why John Howard was disinclined to recognise Chris’s obvious credentials for cabinet despite my repeated advocacy of his merits. Of course, Chris’s ultimate elevation was somewhat bittersweet in that it came at the expense of our very good friend Ian Campbell. I never thought Ian should have been forced out of the cabinet, but it was a considerable consolation that John Howard accepted my advice to elevate Chris Ellison in Ian’s place. While Chris had a long and successful ministerial career, he has good reason to feel disappointed, I think, that he did not have the opportunity to serve for a much longer period in the cabinet. Indeed, I was, of course, one of the very few genuine federalists in the Howard cabinet and would have loved to have had Chris in there with me for more than the nine months that he was to help me to argue the federalist case with all of those centralists around the cabinet table.

Chris had six different ministries in his 10½ years, which is—I have not checked—probably a record for our government. Again, I think that reflects well on him and reflects both his flexibility and adaptability, which are very important political attributes. The majority of his frontbench service, as I think is well known, was as Minister for Justice and Customs, a position he held for some six years. I can certainly vouch for the affection and respect for Chris throughout the Australian Federal Police, whose minister he was for all of those six years. I certainly well remember representing Chris in the Solomon Islands and presenting awards to the Federal Police for their service in RAMSI. The very high regard in which Chris was held was very clear to me.

He also served as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate for nearly 2½ years, the latter half of which coincided with my leadership of the government in the Senate. No leader could have wished for a more capable and competent manager. I am extremely grateful to him for making my first year as Leader of the Government in the Senate less stressful than it might otherwise have been. Certainly Chris and I discovered that managing a one-seat government majority in the Senate is actually a hell of a lot harder than managing a minority. We had to make sure the numbers were there every time, which was not always easy.

Not only did Chris and I come in together and serve together in the ministry for a decade, we became very good friends. I think we instantly recognised our shared philosophical disposition. I must confess to having been a little wary of Chris in the early stages, given his then reputation as an acolyte of the infamous Noel Crichton-Browne, whose approach to politics I never found particularly endearing. But I soon discovered that Chris was very much his own man, one with a strong moral and ideological backbone and who was prepared to go to the barricades to defend his beliefs.

Chris’s maiden speech, which I just reread, is one of the most impressive I have heard in my 15½ years in this place. He clearly stated then his strong philosophical principles, and he has held true to them throughout his career. He has been a strong fighter for economic liberalism, for social conservatism, for the great virtues of our Australian Federation, for the advantages of our constitutional monarchy and for the primacy of marriage and family. He and I were in the trenches together in defending our Constitution against the ravages of the republicans during the 1999 referendum. We voted together consistently on the conservative side of all the major conscience issues that have come before this Senate in the time that we have been here together. In fact, I cannot think of a political issue on which we have differed.

He has been a powerful, passionate defender of the interests of the state he is so proud to represent, the state of Western Australia, and a great servant of the Western Australian Liberal Party. I must say that I have nothing but sympathy for those like Chris who represent Western Australia in Canberra. I acknowledge Senator Evans in that capacity. So while I am very disappointed, I am not at all surprised that, after 15½ years of flying backwards and forwards between Perth and Canberra, Chris has chosen now to share in his beautiful young children’s growth and play a greater part in their development. The hardest part of being a federal MP is without question the absences that we all experience from our own children. That is, of course, especially so for Western Australians. On this occasion, I do want to thank very sincerely Chris’s wife, Caroline, for sharing Chris with us and allowing him to so faithfully and diligently serve his country, his state and his party in this place. On that note, I wish Chris every success in his new life and congratulate him on a magnificent parliamentary career.


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