Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


6:16 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia) Share this | Hansard source

Chris Ellison is able, committed, articulate, competent and, above all, a thoroughly decent person. Chris has had a stellar career since joining the Senate in July 1993, with roles as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services and to the Attorney-General; Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs; Minister Assisting the Attorney-General; Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training; Special Minister of State; Minister for Justice and Customs; Minister for Human Services; and, as has been mentioned, an unbelievable Manager of Government Business.

I can remember saying on several occasions to the leader, ‘Is this guy for real?’ I could not quite comprehend how someone could be under such pressure, being approached from all angles about different things in a crisis, and just get through it all with equanimity, good humour, success and ability. It always amazed me. He has always acted in the best interests of Australia while at the same time remaining a very dedicated and vociferous advocate for his beloved home state of Western Australia. Chris is a very deep thinker, with committed views on many issues that reflect his upbringing and his beliefs. The Mabo warnings given in his maiden speech were prescient but, regrettably, went unheeded at the time.

Chris should be acknowledged for the real impact he has had on the fortunes of the Liberal Party in Western Australia, which has seen magnificent results federally right the way through his career but particularly in the last two federal elections, making gains in the election before last and winning a seat in the last election for the House of Representatives in Western Australia when everywhere else Liberal seats were falling to Labor. His influence has been instrumental in the quite remarkable victory of the Liberal Party at the last state election, earlier this year, when the party won nine electorates in the Western Australian parliament to become the government of that state.

I have worked very closely with Chris, particularly between the years 2001 and 2006, when I as fisheries minister and he as customs minister dealt with the problem of illegal fishing in Australian waters. That culminated in the acquisition of the armed, ice-strengthened vessel the Oceanic Viking, followed by the cessation of illegal fishing in the Southern Ocean and a substantial win in the battle against foreign incursions in the north.

Closer work with Chris, however, has occurred not in parliament or in ministerial offices but in the salubrious surroundings of Lee’s Inn Chinese restaurant at Manuka. Even before Chris was sworn in as a senator, he had joined a select group of people at this high-class restaurant working through such weighty matters as which delegates should be elected to the West Australian division of the Liberal Party, which person should be put in charge as branch development secretary in some branch in a small locality up in the far north of Western Australia, which proxies could be obtained from ‘reliable’ people, which of our colleagues should be favoured for this position or that trip and which leader should receive our support.

Of course, all of this was intertwined with conversations by undoubted culinary connoisseurs of the delights of genuine downtown Manuka Chinese cuisine. I suspect that this group, of which I was an original member and Chris was a very early member, were never quite as successful and influential as we thought we might have been. Nevertheless, our meetings at Lee’s on Wednesday nights started a tradition that continues, at least to tonight.

These evenings, throughout those relaxed years of opposition from 1993 to 1996 and in the early, busy days of government, were enjoyable, friendly and non-factional—or perhaps I should say ‘broad church’. They were gatherings that had only one rule, and that was that one should not attempt to understand, interfere with or even talk about the internal Liberal Party matters of any state other than one’s own.

These dinners were remarkable for their value for money. When Chris started, you could overeat on entrees, main courses and desserts for $7 a person—and that included quite a substantial tip. They were usually followed by visits to Le Grange, which has been mentioned. It closed after a murder there! The Grange is really where it all happened. We also went to the Kingo occasionally. I remember Senator Ellison and our then leader, Senator Hill—both big, burly men—confronting a doorman at the Kingo one night at about 3 o’clock in the morning, when he was suggesting to us that we should not be entering at that time. We went to those places. We occasionally went to the Hyatt, a favourite haunt of Senator Ellison and Ian Campbell. Sometimes we ended up at my flat at Arthur Circle with, at times, quite difficult results. There was no mention at any of these gatherings of the few altercations which may have happened during those late-night—or, indeed, early morning, as they were—continuations of those important political discussions we used to have.

Having met with Rod Kemp on this last weekend, I want, at this stage, to express to Chris and Caroline the very best wishes of Rod and Danielle Kemp in their retirement from this place, with an assurance from Kempie that, while it was fun being here, there is certainly a life after parliament. Rod would have been at Lee’s tonight but for a very pressing family commitment.

I feel sure that I can, without seeking their concurrence, also associate others with the remarks that have been made. Many of the Lee’s originals would want me to convey their best wishes to Chris. These people would, I am sure, want me to thank Chris for his friendship, his good humour, his help and his sensitivity to Lee’s secrets. I know that people like Robert Hill, Richard Alston, Ian Campbell, Noel Chrichton-Browne, Grant Chapman, Winston Crane, John Herron, David McGibbon, Senator Parer, Kay Patterson occasionally, when she could put up with the food, Sue Knowles and Grant Tambling would all want to be associated with these good wishes through their early association with you at Lee’s.

I think all of us in the Senate—and, indeed, in the parliament—will be poorer for Chris’s retirement from this place. I have certainly not always agreed with every view put by Chris, but I have always respected his beliefs and arguments and his genuine contribution to Australia and its governments in his role as a senator. I also greatly respect his role as a distinguished minister, for which Australia is indebted to him. Chris leaves the Senate with the very best wishes of all of us. My wife, Lesley, and I give our very best wishes to him and Caroline and their family. Good luck for the future.


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