Wednesday, 13 February 2019
I'm absolutely delighted to rise today to say a few words today about Senator John Williams the Nationals senator for New South Wales, better known, of course, as 'Wacka'. When you're standing in this place at these times it's always a bit of a tears and beers moment. We're having a bit of a celebration about what Wacka Williams, in this case, has achieved, but we're always a bit sad to see them go.
We've just heard a valedictory from a quintessential Australian. He could've been regaling his mates in the pub about what had happened. That's his style, that's what he sounded like and that's what he has always been. I recall his maiden speech, when he described the mob he was from and his home town of Jamestown, where he grew up, and that community. He said they were the salt of the earth. Of course! We need no better description than to have listened today and to have worked with someone who was quintessentially Australian and absolutely the salt of the bloody earth, as he would tell you.
Most people who have experienced Wacka know that he brings a particular element, that element of his life experience—growing up in Jamestown, shifting to Inverell, going into business with his brother, going through all of that angst about losing the family farm and all of that. Much of that he's brought to this place: that rich experience of being everything from a penciller at the races to being a truck driver and a shearer, to knowing how to set a rabbit trap, he tells me, with all his fingers still there. He's just a fantastic guy with lots of what I consider to be real-life experience, but I guess in the context of the real world that's just different life experience. I think we should be so grateful he brought that to this place. The other element he would see in his pub as an element of value and respect is hard work. Now Wacka worked hard. He got here earlier; he went home later; if there was a job to done, he went and did it. As we've heard from the Greens, he didn't have to, but he got in the car and drove five hours to give them a quorum. That was Wacka. He was the bloke who brought the value of hard work to this place.
Knowing Wacka, I know that there are few of us who would have had the same experiences—we all bring different experiences—but he's had some pretty tough times. He'd had some very hard hardships. He'd had a lot of financial hardships and, more recently, he's had some issues with his health. People often wonder how he would have got through that and maintained this humorous good nature about all of those sorts of matters. He's brought so much wealth of knowledge with him: his knowledge as a shearer; his knowledge of agriculture; his knowledge of the banking system, which was pretty focused before he came here. So he's come from some very humble beginnings in the rural mid-north of South Australia, all the way to now calling Inverell, New South Wales, home.
His life experience is something that we truly value in the National Party, because those values I've just been talking about—I'm not pretending to own those values, but they are the values of the National Party: hard work; being a reflection of the people you come from. You look like the people who vote from you, you think like the people who vote for you and you champion the people who have put you here. Certainly, that is quintessentially Wacka. He comes from a place where they think like him, talk like him. That's why in regional and rural Australia, in regional and rural New South Wales particularly, he's been able to engage so well with his constituency. And, because he can engage so well, that's why he has become a complete champion for regional and rural Australia.
There's a great generosity in Wacka. He's a very, very generous individual. We've heard how he so humbly says he was very pleased to help people into a scholarship so that they could become dentists. If they come from the country, they're likely to come back to the country and be dentists. I think it was some $50,000 he put away. It was quite a remarkable contribution which, in effect, came out of his own pocket.
Now I know that Wacka's constituents will consider his retirement a bit of a loss for them. His consistent fighting spirit for regional New South Wales and farmers across the country surely will be missed. But I think he's left a legacy and a new benchmark. Whoever follows Wacka in here as a senator for New South Wales, there is a new benchmark of the values that Wacka has brought to this place: you'd better be hardworking, you'd better be a champion and you'd better know what you're talking about. I think in this building, he has certainly left his mark.
I know that Wacka, as a long-time National whip in the Senate, had his job cut out for him. We're a very small team; a bit of a force to be reckoned with. We don't have any rules about obeying any particular rules; you can all pretty much do what you like. We are self-disciplined. We tend to come to a core. We make sure we don't leave our mates out in the cold. Wacka did an absolutely tremendous job as whip, and could I just acknowledge the fantastic staff that he's had for such a long time. We've all enjoyed working with them, certainly when he was whip and keeping us all in line. I think they've done a great job.
I particularly have always enjoyed Wacka's fair dinkum turn of phrase. I think it's something both Wacka and I share, which has landed us both in a bit of hot water on many occasions. As he reflected in his valedictory speech, someone's got to keep the refinement of the British language in hand. So, Wacka, I'm absolutely confident that I speak for everyone on both sides of the chamber when I say that we've always very much admired your down-to-earth nature, your frankness with all of your colleagues and your courage to make your opinions known even when there was a bit of a personal cost. You know, I'm leaning on Wacka and he's saying, 'I know you may not like this, Nige, but this is what I'm going to do.' We've always very much admired that courage.
At these times you have to make difficult decisions. You have to stand up for the things you believe in and that your constituents in that part of Australia, in that sector, believe in. And sometimes, I acknowledge, it's a bit of a lonely place to be. Certainly sitting on the other side of the Greens when you're a coalition member is a pretty lonely place to be, but you found that that was essential, and we all respect you very much for those decisions.
I don't think there's another person in this place who fought harder for justice to be brought to the banking and financial industry. There's no doubt about it. There were Wacka's early days in the toing and froing with the banks, with his own farm, and the frustration that he felt and he knew that so many other people felt—that you couldn't do anything about it because they were big; they were huge. They were bigger than you, they had better lawyers, they had better advisers, they were more believable and there were people who had a vested interest. So Wacka felt that he was really the tiny person in that argument. It may not have been part of his motivation but his coming here, because he knew the heartache and devastation that came from being unfairly treated by financial institutions, led to one of the greatest pursuits of his career—his quest to uncover the malpractices of the financial industry.
When Wacka arrived, well before anyone was really focused on this issue, I know he was busy spending countless hours with constituents, particularly farmers who sought his advice on how to deal with unfair treatment and difficulties with the big banks. I know that his genuine care and concern for the wellbeing of the farmers and their livelihoods is something that we can all learn from, because a growing reputation as a champion of farmers dealing with the banks ensured that he had a lot of people lining up at his electoral office. Wacka, to say that you've left a legacy would be an understatement. As a particular news publication so rightly described it when summarising your time in parliament, 'You don't have to be a minister to make a difference in Canberra.'
I should acknowledge Bozzie—Ron Boswell—and Fiona Nash. They were two great National Party senators. Bozzie used to always lecture me about focusing on more than one thing, and certainly Wacka took his advice. He really focused on things. He knew every in and out, he ran every campaign and he really ensured that people understood what was up and down in that area.
Lastly, Wacka, thanks so much for being a good mate and contributing to the National Party. Good luck on completing your retirement bucket list. I'm sure this is not the last we hear from you, and I'm sure it's not going to be the last you hear from me, mate.
Whilst I'm on my feet, I'd also like to acknowledge the time that Senator Leyonhjelm—David—has spent in this place. He's a very unique creature It is part of his personality, not his politics, that, from the moment he took his seat in 2014, he's made me completely cringe a number of times. How can you have this fundamentalism of complete honesty and courage every day? He was quite happy to sit on his own. He had absolutely no friends. Mate, I have to say that we all got used to that. You have very strong and courageous views—you're self-titled as a classic liberal. I can remember you in your maiden speech declaring your quest to convince Australians that governments should forego their overgoverning, overtaxing and overriding ways, and you summed it up by stating that governments should be seeking protection of life, liberty and private property. So, in short, you strongly believe that private citizens, as you tell me, should be left alone. You have a humble family background, hailing from Victoria; an impressive portfolio and tertiary qualifications. You're a vet, you're a lawyer—the list goes on and on. I think, with all of that experience, you certainly can't be accused of making unqualified commentary in this place, mate.
I know that you've worn a number of political hats and you've sought identity through a number of parties. Consistently your views and beliefs regarding the economy, social issues, reducing government, private property, the matter of firearms, free trade and many other areas have become your own. With clearly articulated and developed policy ideas, you have come here with a great deal of knowledge. So whilst many in the chamber don't agree with you on a number of issues, I think we'd all say that we would agree about your huge commitment and strength to sticking to your guns, mate—no pun intended—and not compromising on your views. You've dealt with it all honestly and in a straightforward way. Whilst I mightn't agree with you on most things, I have to say, I've always respected your capacity to remain steadfast in your beliefs.
I have a great deal of common ground with Senator Leyonhjelm. That's probably well known in this place. He's a fellow shooter and a supporter of the rights of hunters and shooters, so it's tremendous to be able to have a companion on the crossbench. When you're voting for us, we can go over and actually discuss the various aspects of the differences between a one-in-12-inch twist and a one-in-11-inch twist when you're using 46 grains of 2208 in a 308 barrel at 100 metres. Other people aren't really interested in those conversations! It's fascinating to us though, mate, and I'll certainly miss those conversations.
On behalf of myself and others in the National Party, we wish you all the best, mate. I really do. I've no doubt you'll continue to be a formidable force in the world of politics. The fact we've got a shooter and hunter on the side of people continuing in politics is a fantastic thing, so keep up the good work in that. I know that you'll be a significant force, not only in New South Wales but beyond that. Thanks so much for contributing to the diversity of viewpoints and challenging us to think outside the square. I'm really looking forward to having some more time to accompany you in the annoyance of wildlife.