Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


6:00 pm

Photo of Helen CoonanHelen Coonan (NSW, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

In many respects, these are such melancholy occasions where we reflect on the outstanding contributions of our colleagues and hear some very heartfelt and very sincere words from members of the opposition. I think it really talks very much to the collegiality of the Senate and the way in which we form very enduring friendships and associations in the time that we are in this place, particularly if it has been for a long period.

Tonight I want to pay tribute to a true gentleman of this chamber, Chris Ellison, who for 15½ years has very ably and graciously represented the people of the great state of Western Australia. They will miss his determined advocacy for them, as will all of us for all of the issues that he has pursued over the years. But with three children, sitting up there in the gallery, under the age of 10, and having been committed to being away from his home state and, more importantly, from his own home for most of the last 15 years, I think his decision is very understandable. We do wish him great joy and happiness in being able to spend time with Caroline and the children.

I can remember when the twins were born and later, when sitting up in the President’s gallery, you could barely see their heads over the top of the seats, which suggests that Chris has probably been here far too long, because now they are almost grown up. When we see them looking down at us now we can see them so clearly.

When I first started in the Senate I sat beside Chris in question time. He instructed me in the dark arts of question time and other political endeavours, so I have a great affection for Chris. He has always been a great teacher, friend and mentor to me. But I do think, looking back on those early days, that he had to very quickly house-train a new pup and he did that very well. I do not know whether he had a particular role to do that, but he certainly did it very well with me.

He has given, as others have said, much service to this chamber and, as he said as a new senator in his first speech, on 1 September 1993, he followed in some great Western Australian senatorial footsteps in the shape of, for one, the late Senator Peter Durack QC. If the new Senator Ellison was at all concerned, following in those august footsteps, with his list of service to his state, to his party and to our chamber and its various committees and his ministerial roles that he has always carried out with such distinction, he need not have been.

Senator Ellison has variously served on the Privileges Committee and the Scrutiny of Bills Committee. I keep following him, too, together with Senator Abetz—we all follow Senator Ellison—so I have now, once again, assumed chairmanship of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, of which he was chair. He has been on the Procedures Committee, as well as on many Senate select committees and their inquiries. In addition, he sat on various joint statutory committees and contributed significantly, as other speakers have said, to all their deliberations. I will not go into all of them.

As a senator for Western Australia he travelled widely. He made many official visits to countries as diverse as France, East Timor, Korea, Nauru, Indonesia, Cyprus, Austria, the United States, as well as many visits to South-East Asia and Pacific island nations, but he could never rival ‘Marco Polo’—Senator Alston.

Many senators will recall Senator Ellison as both diligent and committed as the Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs, back in 1997; as Special Minister of State and as Minister for Justice and Customs for nearly seven years, amongst his other portfolios, before being promoted to cabinet as Minister for Human Services in March 2007. I certainly remember him in cabinet. I agree with Senator Minchin that his abilities meant that he was qualified to be in cabinet far earlier than he was actually elevated to cabinet. He discharged that role with great distinction. He managed the difficulties or opportunities those various portfolios offered always with grace, determination, great humour, intelligence and perseverance.

More recently, Senator Ellison, as Senator Ludwig has mentioned, was the Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate and, if I marvelled at his stamina before assuming Senator Ellison’s previous role in managing the opposition’s business in the Senate, I doubly marvel at his stamina since taking over this role. It requires enormous energy, discipline, quick thinking, firmness and diplomacy, which he has in spades, to get through a quarter of a day, let alone a whole one, as I have been discovering over these last few months. And were it not for the good humour of Joe Ludwig I think it would be much more difficult.

Chris has certainly set, I think, a very high bar for us all to get over in seeking to match his performance. I should just add one thing. He also has an iron stomach, because there is never enough time to eat, or eat properly, and that is no doubt why Chris has been a stalwart of Lee’s restaurant, that bastion establishment for Liberal senators going back before time—the memory of man runneth not—with the internal fortitude to meet over a meal and enjoy our friendship on Wednesday evenings when the Senate was sitting.

Finally, I salute Senator Ellison for the virtues that make him such a universally popular and much-loved member of this chamber. I commend him on his integrity, honesty, compassion and unfailing courtesy. Those characteristics of Chris Ellison the man and our friend will be sorely missed by us all. I wish him and his family every success for a prosperous and happy future, and don’t be a stranger to us in the future.


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