Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


5:48 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

The Senate this evening farewells a senator, but not an ordinary senator; it farewells a very special senator—a senator who has made a sterling contribution to his country, to his state and to his party. It is a sterling contribution of which you, Chris, can be justifiably proud.

My association with you goes back, I think, some 30 years to the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation, and of course that is good and bad: good, because I can vouch for Senator Ellison, but also bad because I know as many bad things about Senator Ellison as he knows about me. He indicated that in this debate he would have the right of reply, so I should go easy. I remind him that I hope that I might have a few years of parliamentary privilege left in me, so go easy on the right of reply.

Senator Ellison came here about 18 months before I did and it seems to be my destiny to follow in his political footsteps. I followed him as the chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Committee. I then followed him as Special Minister of State and I then followed him as Manager of Government Business in the Senate. And just in case those opposite get a bit too excited, yes, one day I will follow his steps into retirement, but not quite yet.

When I did follow in Senator Ellison’s footsteps in those various roles, I always found that I had very, very big shoes to fill. He had earned a reputation of being hard working, robust, thorough, clear thinking and honest. He was also, and, might I add, still remains, a man of clear values, which he holds dear. He is a conviction politician: someone who knows where he stands and also knows why he stands where he does. In short, if you knew where Senator Ellison stood on an issue, I think you could bet London to a brick you could predict where Senator Abetz stood on that same issue. His values and belief system make us philosophical and political soul mates.

We worked closely together on a number of issues in our ministerial careers. I remember our joint submission to cabinet in relation to illegal fishing. We agreed on our tactics and walked out of cabinet ashen faced and shaking our heads in disgust. As soon as we were out of the cabinet room we did cartwheels back to our offices, not believing our luck in getting the amount of money that we did. Then, in relation to the value type issues, there were matters such as euthanasia, where I took over the chairing of the euthanasia inquiry.

And of course, very importantly, there are the social aspects. I think I can reveal this evening the real reason for Senator Ellison’s retirement: that was when some of us lost the battle for Lee’s! When the leader ratted on us, Chris, and changed sides on that very important social justice issue of where we ought to have dinner on a Wednesday evening, I saw that it was a bit tough to bear. I can understand why you are leaving us, but we are all looking forward to another great night at Lee’s tonight.

Can I observe, Mr President, that I have never seen the gallery look so beautiful as it does this evening, with both Caroline Ellison and my wife. They say that behind every great man there is a surprised mother-in-law. Can I also say that anybody who is able to make a substantial contribution in this calling of being a parliamentarian, and who has a family, also has an imperative that he or she has a very supportive spouse. There is no doubt, Chris, that you enjoyed a very supportive spouse. Michelle and I enjoy Caroline’s company. We enjoyed her support of us, before you had children, looking after our children.

May I briefly recount a story where Caroline Ellison broke the heart of our son John. Caroline used to look after John very well, taking him shopping around Canberra. As one does in the car from time to time, we had a family discussion, and the topic turned to marriage. John was absolutely definite: he was going to marry Caroline Ellison. Then when his older sister told him, ‘Don’t be so silly, she’s already married,’ he burst into tears. Later on the Ellisons were in Hobart at a hotel and my wife and John came to pay a visit to Caroline Ellison. It really hit home to my son John that Caroline Ellison was in fact married when Chris Ellison walked into the hotel room. He took one look at him and cried. He then knew that Caroline Ellison was not available for marriage. She is a great mother to their three children and a great support to Chris.

Can I say, Chris, you have impressed me always as a very well-rounded individual—very personable, intelligent, with a great sense of humour and a great turn of phrase, and sincere, with a solid set of values. I hope that you will be able to put all those traits and qualities to good use in your retirement. I wish you, Caroline, Siena, Nicholas and Sebastian all the best for the future. And God bless.


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