Wednesday, 13 February 2019
Wacka: I think that what we've seen tonight is that we will all miss you. You're a true boy from the bush and a true National.
He referenced in his valedictory speech two dogs—Pistol and Boo. That reminded me of a poem by Robbie Burns that reminds me of Wacka. It's really where we hear the phrase, 'a scholar and a gentleman'. For me, Wacka is a scholar and a gentleman. He pushed against stereotypes, whilst also pretending to be one, I think, at times.
Wacka, in his maiden speech, referenced the scholarship he got to university, but that he only lasted three months and away he went. He's had an amazing life of driving trucks and a life on the land—as a shearer et cetera. As Nigel said, it hasn't always been easy. But the fact that John Williams from Jamestown got a scholarship to university back then points to the fact that he has a pretty good mind on him. For me, in the conversations we've had in this place, his savant-like capacity to remember facts and figures and to perform calculations at any time of day or night on the most obscure bits of information was always surprising.
I think he is also a gentleman, and we've heard a lot of references to that in the comments in the chamber today. He's respectful, as a gentleman should be. He respects both sides of politics, he respects the work of the Senate and its committees. He respects people. He respects the chair, and we see his longstanding efforts to see standing orders changed so that the President of the Senate would have the ability to cast out those senators who were not respectful in the chamber. And he's very respectful in the chamber. I remember often—particularly as a new senator—chatting with another colleague and being reminded by my trusty whip, Wacka Williams, that I needed to be much more respectful. Polite and respectful.
He's also courageous, as a gentleman should be. He did what was right, not expedient, always. For us in the Nationals, particularly when in government, he also reminded us often why we were here and who we were here to serve, and he really brought the heart into our party room. He never complained. He was always positive. He often expressed anger and frustration, I think, in equal measures and at both sides, on behalf of those people who sent him and us in our party to parliament—regional Australians. He always was a fighter. He fought for a fair go. He was incredibly courageous.
I think my National Party colleagues, and particularly you, Senator O'Sullivan, would agree with me on this: without doubt, of the 16 Senate whips our party's held in a century, Wacka is undoubtedly the best and the most popular. That is why he got the job more than once; he was just so good at it. He made sure we were on time, supporting our team in the chamber. He was incredibly helpful to new senators, helping us learn the ropes. One of the things he instituted as whip was compulsory fun for the Nationals. We had this regular compulsory afternoon tea straight after question time on a Wednesday. When Bozzie was around we had lamingtons, et cetera. I arrived and there was hummus, with Senator Nash there was fruit and with Senator O'Sullivan there were saveloys. We had an afternoon tea that became quite a spread. Wacka always made sure we felt like a family and that we found some time in this incredibly busy job to do something very regular and real and to connect on a very human level. He was also very good with jokes. A personal favourite was, 'Take a good look around'. I'll leave that for him to ponder on. He was always ready to make us laugh.
He always supported new senators. I remember making my maiden speech on the other side a few years ago. Like he did tonight, I got quite emotional when speaking about the contribution our families make to getting us here and to supporting us in our work here. He was sitting in front of me. He clenched his teeth and, out of the side of his mouth, he said to me on that night, 'Grit your teeth, stay strong.' I appreciated that tonight he realised it's not that easy. His love for Nancy knows no bounds, and I know they're going to have a fantastic life post-politics. Also through his office of the whip, he was incredibly supportive of new staff. I'd like to pay homage to Deb, Gary and, particularly, Greg, who made any new staff member welcome and showed them the ropes. No question was too hard or a waste of time.
As many people have talked about, Wacka was a great champion for the underdog—for those who are powerless in our society and who the big end of town have mistreated. I won't go into his work there. He also stood up for law-abiding firearm owners. We crossed the floor together on various issues over the years on that particular issue. He pushed for beef producers to have greater rights. He supported with me the inquiry into competition in the beef industry that actually saw a lot of poor behaviour, particularly by large players in the beef industry, that had a severe impact on our producers in getting a fair return for their product. He was quite a champion in that area. In competition law more generally, he always fought for changes to the Trade Practices Act, et cetera. He really fought for the underdog, and I think that is just a testament to his life experience and his tenacity.
I know you can't wait to spend the rest of your life with Nancy. You are a truly authentic man in what increasingly is sometimes a very false environment. That's why we all delight in Wacka's turn of phrase and his capacity to say what he thinks, mean what he says and do what he says he's going to do. They're rare and traditional values that I think are getting harder and harder to find in modern life. Thank you, country boy. You are the real deal.
I also want to make some brief comments on Senator Leyonhjelm. As chair and founder of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting, Senator Leyonhjelm has been a very strong advocate for law-abiding firearm owners in this country. I've appreciated both his support in the chamber and his efforts outside, and also his participation in our regular events. I extend to any senators or MPs who want to have a crack, quite literally, an invitation to our regular events throughout the year. You can come and try your hand in a safe and fun environment.
Senator Leyonhjelm's dry sense of humour and his ability to look serious whilst being sarcastic will, I think, be very much missed. Senator Cameron, I think you raised a good point about the inherent contradiction of being a libertarian and up for small government whilst seeking a political career. I think that's not lost on those of us who hold similar values. Go well, Senator Leyonhjelm. Keep punching on, but not at the expense of the Nats.