Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Parliamentary Representation


5:04 pm

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

Mr President, I think I might need protection from some of my colleagues on both sides of the chamber. Can I say how amazed and humbled I have been at the gestures of goodwill that have been extended to Linda and me. I am starting to worry, in fact, if it might not be an encouragement for me to go.

It is just incredible the number of invitations I have had. Only last Thursday, Senator Whish-Wilson invited me to join the Greens, until such time as I could not vote for his banking bill, then he withdrew the offer. Of course my colleagues here in the National Party all wanted me to join the National Party, but only until Thursday, when they thought they might be able to get the casual vacancy. That has been withdrawn. But I do have to say how appreciative I am of the goodwill that has been expressed.

The eleventh of February 1990 was a day of enormous international significance, not because it was my 40th birthday, but because it was the day on which Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison, including 18 years on Robben Island, was released. For those of you that need to reflect on that, he lived most of his time, 23 hours a day, in a cell that was about the size of the bathrooms in our suites. He had the opportunity of one visit a year and he could send one letter a year. I want to focus on the fact that on the night that he was elected to the presidency of South Africa in April 1994 he said:

I hold out a hand of friendship to the leaders of all parties and their members and ask all of them to join us in working together to tackle the problems we face as a nation. An ANC government will serve all the people of South Africa, not just ANC members.

I make that point because, as I leave, I have to say to you that I feel there are some enormous challenges ahead of us in this country, and it is going to fall to the Senate, on behalf of the people of Australia, to step up to the plate and perform what I will call a 'Mandela moment'. On those occasions when it is necessary that the wellbeing of the people of Australia and this community is to the fore, I ask you to recall the statements of Mandela and please put the country ahead of all else.

While I am on that topic I want to reflect briefly on some of the standards that we have been seeing in the Senate at present, particularly in relation to the personal attacks on people that sometimes occur. I can do nothing better, as usual, than to turn to the library. This quote was given to me yesterday; it is from the 19th century English historian, Henry Thomas Buckle. He said: 'Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.'

Can I urge that this parliament is the senior place in this country. It is from here that the standards are set. It is fantastic that we have had great robust discussions over time. I look at my colleague Senator Doug Cameron. We have gone toe to toe in this place, but on each and every occasion we have walked out and we have made sure that we have had an amicable discussion in the corridor. I do urge that I think that is a reasonable way to go.


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