Senate debates

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Parliamentary Representation

Valedictory

5:59 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

As Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, I rise to briefly respond to the valedictory statements of Senators Williams and Leyonhjelm. First to 'Wacka' Williams. As he said today, he was born in Jamestown, South Australia and somehow, via a career as a truck driver, shearer, farmer, small-business owner and other things, ended up as a senator for New South Wales. Some South Australians might regard that as a step backwards! We reckon that the fact that he has his roots in the mid-north is probably part of the reason why he is a pretty good bloke.

The qualities which make him a good bloke are what somebody described as a 'generally convivial nature'. He hasn't always had positive things to say about some on this side, but he's also had some generous things to say about some on this side. One of the things that Senator Williams talked about today, and I was thinking about it as I was listening to him, was the relationships that people have—genuine friendships and respectful relationships across the chamber. He's right: it's one of the things that we do value—that I do value—and probably one of the things that we don't nurture enough or speak about enough in this place. It didn't surprise me, actually, that Senator Williams spoke fondly of Doug Cameron. I think both senators Williams and Cameron bring to this place an authenticity and a genuineness, both in the way they operate but also in the friendships that they have.

Senator Williams' genuineness and character have led him to take some pretty strong positions on various policy areas over the years. He's probably caused those opposite me more worries, in many ways, than this side of the chamber. He's certainly been prepared to put his view, even when it didn't accord with the views of the collective of the government, or the opposition, as they were for a number of years. We might have said at the time that he should have gone harder, but it is the case that he certainly was prepared to put his views. Senator Williams used forums, such as the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services and other forums, to shine a light where many people might have preferred he go a little more quietly.

I'd also say, as chair of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, that he has actually assisted the opposition in maintaining scrutiny on government regulations. In this place, we do require—if we are to function effectively, particularly on committees—some commitment and dedication from senators from all sides of the chamber. I do want to express on behalf of the opposition our thanks and respect to Senator Williams for the approach he's taken to the committee work.

I think it's a tribute to the esteem in which Senator Williams is held that so many people were here today for his valedictory. I've never had the chamber that full for me, so you're doing better! He is an authentic bloke. I was remembering one time when he said across the chamber to me something like: 'You've got a lovely smile! You should smile more!' I thought at the time that there aren't many blokes from whom I'd take that nicely, and I did. So, tick—there you go! It's because he's a decent bloke.

I thank him for his service to the Senate since 2008, and on behalf of all Labor senators I wish you well, Wacka, for your retirement.

Senator Leyonhjelm: I remember meeting Senator Leyonhjelm when he first came in—reading about him and thinking: 'Wow! This bloke, he's right out there.' Then I had a meeting with him pretty early on, with Bill Shorten. Afterwards, Bill and I talked to each other—I think it was with a couple of the crossbenchers—and I said: 'Well, it's going to be pretty clear, isn't it? He's got a really consistent view. He actually has a philosophical view and we know what we might get him on and we know what we won't get him on.' And, actually, that's been pretty much the case.

Your comments, Senator Leyonhjelm, about having principles and consistency are correct. I have pretty much always been able to look at a piece of legislation or a procedural matter and know broadly where I reckon your vote would be. That was kind of efficient, wasn't it, because then I didn't have to go to you if I really knew you weren't going to support us. But if there was a chance then we could have a chat!

As he notes, Senator Leyonhjelm is the last senator standing from the crossbench wave that entered this place in July 2014. Now he's decided that the regulations of the state of New South Wales are in his sights. Senator Leyonhjelm has prosecuted his case with zeal. I want to thank him for his early and public stand on marriage equality. That was helpful to the debate. Whilst there are a number of areas of policy on which he and the Labor Party don't agree, I do want to record that Senator Leyonhjelm always dealt with me civilly, always dealt with me honestly and was willing to listen to our arguments and manage differences professionally. I thank him for that. I'm sure he will understand why Labor senators don't wish him too much luck as he resigns in the Senate to contest the state election next month. I think Senator Keneally put it well: 'I don't wish you luck, but I wish you well.' I reprise her words on that and I also, on behalf of opposition senators, thank Senator Leyonhjelm for his service to this place.

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