Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 December 2008


6:38 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Health Administration) Share this | Hansard source

Chris Ellison is a really good bloke. As a senator for Western Australia, he has served our home state, our country and the Liberal cause with distinction. He is loyal, committed, hardworking, conservative, at times cautious and very considered, but always very determined, and he is very, very good company. Chris Ellison is somebody who cares. He cares about what happens, about his constituents, about his state and about making a difference on the issues that matter. He cares about his staff and, more than anything else, he cares about his family—his beautiful wife, Caroline, and their beautiful children, Nicholas, Siena and Sebastian. I can only begin to imagine how excited they must be to have him back. I certainly know that they will not miss the Sunday afternoons, week after week, when Chris had to leave the family home and embark on the long journey from Perth to Canberra. From a selfish, personal point of view, I will be sad to see Chris leave the Senate, but of course I look forward to the ongoing opportunity of working with Chris within the context of the Western Australian Liberal Party in whatever form that might take in the future. From a family point of view, I very much know and understand the sacrifices that the Ellison family have made over the past 15½ years.

Chris Ellison has had a significant influence on my life. We first met about 12 years ago. I had recently migrated to Australia and was trying to find my feet. My English was even worse then than it is today! Chris gave me a chance to prove myself. In the past 12 years, Chris started off as my boss, became my mentor, and I feel very privileged to be able to say that we have become very close friends. Chris was not on his own in mentoring me either. I still remember the team effort when it all first started. I was very young, very keen—perhaps a bit too keen and too ambitious. Caroline and the other women in Chris’s office at the time always found a very Australian way to put me back into my box. I remember a particular incident in Chris’s office—on my first trip to Canberra, actually—when Caroline said, ‘Look, Mathias, just don’t get your knickers in a twist.’ It took me a while to understand, but ever since it has provided significant guidance when, at times, I might be known to get my knickers too much into a twist, for want of a better phrase.

Over the years, I have seen firsthand how in everything Chris does he is guided by a clear and consistent framework of personal values and principles. The first job I worked on with Chris was in relation to Kevin Andrews’ private member’s bill, the Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996, when Chris was Chair of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Legislation Committee. It was a big job at the time. I cannot remember the number of submissions, but it was a very big job and, dare I say it, had a good outcome. Since that period, Chris and I have talked politics at all hours of the day and night—and, when I say ‘all hours of the day and night’, I mean all hours of the day and night! Much of it is classified information, and I will claim the 30-year rule—although, listening to Senator Abetz, it sounds to me as though over the next couple of years there will be some rolling revelations, as his history with Chris started more than 30 years ago.

Chris was a federal minister for more than 10 years, and, while there are too many achievements to list here today, I thought I would just touch on a few. As Special Minister of State, Chris was responsible for the conduct of the referendum on whether Australia should become a republic. Of course, another good outcome was achieved on that occasion.

Chris was the Minister for Justice and Customs at the time of both September 11 and the Bali bombings—terrible world events that changed Australia forever. I will never forget the conversations we had on the phone as we watched in disbelief as the events in New York unfolded in front of us on television, or the absolute devastation we felt when we got the terrible news about the Bali bombings. As Minister for Justice and Customs, Chris was on the front line in helping manage Australia’s response to those terrible events. It was an incredible privilege to be able to play a small part in assisting him at the time in fulfilling that very important responsibility for Australia. He introduced the air security officers into Australia. He oversaw the establishment of the Australian Crime Commission. He was a highly respected minister for customs who took a strong stand on border protection, an issue he spoke passionately about as recently as yesterday. He pursued the establishment of a national child sex offender register through CrimTrac, firearms reforms and many, many other important public policy reforms and initiatives.

All throughout those 10 years as a very busy federal minister, he was also—and this might be less known in the Senate—the Prime Minister’s representative in the Western Australian Liberal Party organisation. That is, he spent 10 years representing the Prime Minister at every state council, state executive, state management executive and federal campaign committee meeting. Those of us who understand about organisational politics, be it within the Liberal Party, the Labor Party or any other party, know what a significant commitment to the Liberal Party organisation that has been over the period of time that Chris has been a minister.

By the time Chris arrived in the Senate, he already had a long and distinguished track record of commitments to the Western Australia Liberal Party organisation, starting as an active member of the UWA Liberal Club as far back as 1975 when fighting for voluntary student unionism. Over the years, he has been the president of the Nedlands branch and the Perth division, and chair of our Constitutional and Drafting Committee. He spent 10 years on the state executive and SME as the Prime Minister’s representative. Who knows what other opportunities there may be in the future. I believe that a strong commitment to party organisations is a very good preparation for the job we do as members of parliament, and I certainly admire Chris’s commitment to that. Even when his ministerial job kept him very busy, he still had an ongoing and dedicated commitment to the Liberal Party organisation.

Working for Chris was like being part of a family operation. Many of us who were there along the way continue to be close friends and to stay in touch. A number of us have made it into parliament, thanks in no small part to the coaching, mentoring and guidance we received from Chris Ellison along the way. Two of the people in the Ellison team are now ministers in the Barnett Liberal-National government in Western Australia. That has been very good news, and it is something that I know Chris is exceptionally proud of. However, sadly one member of the family is missing today. Our very good friend Marilyn Benkovic, a well loved member of the Ellison team, the longest-serving, most dedicated and committed member of the Ellison team, very sadly passed away a few months ago after a long battle with cancer. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Marilyn and her family.

I think senators will be getting a clear understanding that for me this is quite a personal moment. I am very, very grateful to Chris Ellison for the role that he has played in my life and I look forward to continuing the friendship. I will miss you greatly here in the Senate; I will miss you on the plane. I am very happy and excited for your family. I know that you will now enter into the next phase of your life and that there will be many exciting opportunities. I wish you all the very best in your future endeavours. I know that I speak for all who have ever worked with you in thanking you for the opportunity to do so. We have enjoyed being part of your vision to make a difference. I know that I speak for all members of the WA Liberal Party State Council—in fact, for all Western Australian Liberals—when I say that you have done us proud. Thank you for the job that you have done for us.


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