Wednesday, 13 February 2019
I'd like to rise to make a brief contribution on the legacies that both Senator Wacka Williams and Senator Leyonhjelm will leave in this place. I might start with Senator Leyonhjelm because I probably have a little bit more to say about Senator Williams as he's a colleague of mine.
Senator Leyonhjelm and I started at the same time. I don't know if we were the class of 2013 or 2014. We started in 2014 but were elected in 2013. A few of us have left. Senator Rice, who I see over there, is another alumnusfrom that year. I'm not sure if there are many more than just the three of us left at least in this place, in the Senate here. It's been a little brutal with a number of elections and a double dissolution.
It is going to be a loss for the Senate to see Senator Leyonhjelm go. As others have remarked, he is someone who has struck to his principles in this place, he is someone who has fought for what he believes and he is someone who represents a different point of view to many in this chamber, and that is a good thing. It helps us improve both the debate within this chamber and the discussions and deliberations outside the chamber, in committees and other forums. David does bring a unique perspective to those debates, and I've always found that he did so in good faith and with intellectual heft.
I'm going to miss some of his contributions in question time because he has a way of both putting the question in a humorous fashion and knowing, particularly for our side of politics, our sore points. He knows how to push our buttons and make life difficult for ministers on different issues. I haven't got any examples because I was trying to google some of his questions from question time—I think there was one about the GST, which was a classic—but, to this day, I still can't spell his name, so I was struggling to google those before and pull up an example. In his contribution he did say that he's proud that he's been able to always vote in line with his views. As someone within a party, I say that of course it's always easier when you're on your own. There's no doubt about that. But, as I said, the distinct perspective he brought was always useful to the chamber.
I did want to pick him up because I think he said, if I'm not verballing him, that he came into this place with a commitment not to vote for a bill that would increase taxes or increase government spending, but there was one exception to that rule, which is always the case, obviously. Minister Littleproud reminded me of it after his contribution. The National Party is very thankful for Senator Leyonhjelm's support for the Regional Investment Corporation. I know that was a bill he probably wasn't inclined to support because it's does mean extra government expenditure, in this case to help build infrastructure for farmers in our rural communities, but he did vote for it because he thought Mr Littleproud was a good bloke and he thought some of us in the National Party were good blokes. He was good enough to give his vote on that measure, and he was a good bloke.
I definitely enjoyed my time serving on committees with Senator Leyonhjelm, particularly with regard to the health impacts of wind farms. We went to many areas that are impacted but often get ignored by the commentariat. I felt very pained by the dismissiveness with which some senators treated witnesses in that inquiry, but Senator Leyonhjelm, along with some other senators who are no longer here, really allowed the witnesses to have their voices heard.
The approach that Senator Leyonhjelm brought to this chamber—he mentioned the horse trading that you have to do sometimes as a crossbench senator; I understand that—meant he did that on a principled basis. The way he conducted himself as a crossbench senator is a template for others who may come to this place as Independents, even those with different views to David, because he stuck true to his principles while still achieving significant changes in line with his views. He did so in a way which was in good faith and respectful of others.
And that is a nice launching pad to talk about Senator Wacka Williams, as Senator McKenzie said, another gentleman in this place. I don't think too many of us could have the galleries full like Wacka did tonight for his contribution. It's really the people who have turned up to pay tribute to him who, in my view, have best demonstrated the contribution he's made to this place. People turned up tonight because Wacka has helped them or made an impact in their lives. His contribution in this place was always centred around helping people, helping people with their problems and taking up their causes. That didn't matter if it involved taking up fights with large corporations, with the government, with ministers or whoever it might be; Wacka was a true voice for the little man in this country. He was a loud voice, a powerful voice and an impactful voice for those who don't often get their voices heard in the halls of power in Australia.
We had a lot of people here tonight, as I said. But I think, in fact, that he will be best remembered by a lot of the people who weren't here tonight—the victims of financial collapses. I know that a lot of them, those who he has helped to represent in that regard, would not have been able to travel to be here this evening. There is the work he's done to protect the interests of the Catholic Church from sometimes undue attacks. He's been a strong representative for them, for schools in his electorate and for the health sector—particularly around Parkinson's disease. He's fought very strongly in the last year to get extra funding for nurses there. These are things that he didn't mention tonight, but we all know them. We still bear the scars, sometimes, of the fights he's taken up on behalf of those! He's also just been a set of ears for people who have concerns.
I want to relate one story that I love about Wacka and what I love about how politics is done in rural Australia. Wacka was hosting Tony Abbott once in New England. I don't think Tony Abbott was Prime Minister, I think Mr Abbott was still the Leader of the Opposition. He was up at Walcha, a sheep-grazing community—a small town in New England. Tony had come to Walcha, and as you'd expect when the opposition leader arrives he got a very good turnout. I heard that about 100-odd graziers would be there to hear from Mr Abbott. Mr Abbott's adviser, who will remain nameless—they are paid to do these jobs; no criticism of them—had come up to prepare the event for the Leader of the Opposition. He'd taken Wacka through how the event was meant to go. He told Wacka in no uncertain terms that Tony was going to say a few words, that he would not take any questions and that he'd have to go. Wacka thought this adviser was perhaps being a little too bossy. He didn't say anything other than, 'Okay, fine, fair enough.'
Anyway, Tony got up and said his few words. Wacka had the microphone, turned around and said, 'Okay, any questions?' Bang—he went straight into it! That's exactly it. Tony was fine, of course, but Wacka always wanted to hear from people. That's what we're here for and that's what we're meant to do, and because he listened to people he was able to then act on their concerns and make a difference.
I really am going to miss Senator Williams here, not just his contribution to those issues and those causes but also the friendship I know he's provided to Senator O'Sullivan and me and to others. He's the guy who always calls up and tells you to come out to dinner when you're probably working too late in this place and should get out and do something else. I'm in two minds, though, about whether I'm going to miss the Thai food or not! Senator Williams always went to the same Thai restaurant at Manuka, run by Sylvie until, unfortunately, it shut last year. It was a fantastic restaurant and it's a very big loss for Canberra, with that moving away. But it was every night; some weeks you'd have four nights in a row, bang, of moneybags. What did we have? I can't even remember now. We'd have dim sims, but it was the fish. The fish was always lovely. Wacka would always order; Wacka would know exactly what to get. I don't know how he did it, but it was beautiful food. I've probably eaten enough Thai now for the rest of my life!
But, Wacka, we're going to miss you lots. I know he mentioned in his first speech that your home is not where you're born; it's where you die. He certainly considers the New England area his home, with Nancy, his lovely wife. I know he will be home now in a home that he's built and that he's very proud of. I wish him all the best in his retirement, notwithstanding the loss we have with him leaving this place.