Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Parliamentary Representation


7:13 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Trade) Share this | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of the government to pay tribute to Senators Scullion, Moore and Cameron for their service in the Australian Senate and to the Australian people. You hear sometimes, when people reflect upon politics, that they believe that politics and service in this place changes people. Of course, in some ways it has to—it has to change us in terms of enhancing our outlook, expanding our knowledge, and broadening and enriching our experience. But, equally, this evening the Australian Senate farewells three characters, three genuine individuals, who, I think, each leave with their core essential characteristics firmly in place, just as they entered this place with.

Nigel, your grounded authenticity is something that we all love so deeply. To the bloke from the bush, who is as much the bloke from the bush here in Canberra as he is up in the Territory or anywhere else around the country, and fisher from the north, who I think in his approach has always brought to bear that old proverb that it's better to teach someone how to fish than just to give them the fish—mate, we will miss you so much. You have much to be proud of—just by being here, to start with. Your background—indeed not unlike many in this place and not unlike those others we farewell tonight—is a background that we would not necessarily have expected to see come to this Australian Senate. You had a nomadic childhood in many ways, in terms of the places you lived. You found yourself making the Territory your home and working across mining, maritime salvage, security and engineering. Most notably, you worked as a fisherman, establishing your own fishing business, serving as chairman of the Australian Seafood Industry Council and coming to represent the Territory but also the fishers of Australia most fiercely.

You've been a fierce advocate for the Territory for those from your background, but also, of course, for First Australians—First Australians, first and foremost, right throughout. If anyone had any doubt about Nigel's affection for his home territory, you need only read his first speech, speaking of its natural beauty but also of the depth of its ancient heritage and the calling of its people.

Nigel, you reflected on your service as a minister in the Howard government and in a range of shadow portfolios. But it's been in the period since 2013 where we and many across the nation have been able to see the full force of your energy and conviction on display as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. It's notable and it's to your credit. You are one of the few people in our government who has carried the same singular portfolio right throughout the time of our government and of your service within it. It's a testament to your deep understanding of the complexities, opportunities and moral significance. As you rightly said, being a standalone Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the cabinet afforded the issues the attention they rightly deserve.

Your relationship with our First Peoples predates this time in the Senate well and truly. As well as being with your fellow Territorians—your neighbours—you spent years living off the sprawling coast of Arnhem Land. You know their work and they know your work and the connections that are there. You matched your personal concerns with the practicality for tangible improvements over the last nearly six years. In particular, our government is so proud of the Indigenous Procurement Policy, which you have driven and championed and which has seen Indigenous businesses win Commonwealth contracts, creating jobs and opportunities across the nation and ensuring those jobs and opportunities are generating ownership, opportunities and greater prosperity for their Indigenous owners.

Your personal experience has driven you to ensure that you focus on other priorities, such as the Community Development Program, which has remote Australian communities at its heart and has helped remote jobseekers find over 37,000 opportunities for employment, many of which have translated into long-term, gainful employment opportunities. You've been instrumental in driving the Indigenous Advancement Strategy used so effectively to deliver support programs to the areas of greatest need. You have been a constant champion for the Indigenous rangers initiative, empowering Indigenous communities to protect the natural wonders of our nation and of their culture and heritage.

In recent times, you worked to secure the historic Closing the Gap partnership, a landmark agreement that will revolutionise the practical working relationships that exist between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and governments at both state and federal level, taking the Closing the Gap agenda, rightly, to the next level and its next place. Upon entering this place, you were one of the first to admit that many of the issues our nation faces in Closing the Gap are complex. They've been there throughout our modern history and will be there long into the future, but you can be proud of the fact you have made a focused, determined and, in many ways, successful effort to make crucial progress in terms of the lives of First Australians.

Away from the ministry, we commend you, Nigel, for having served in National Party leadership roles in the Senate chamber for many years, including as its Senate leader since October 2015. Few can truly appreciate just what a challenge it can be to lead the National Party, particularly the National Party in the Senate. Those of us who sit amongst the leadership group with you and have had that honour get rare glimpses and insights, but, of course, to be able to bring together the different perspectives of the Nats is one of life's great tests, and you have always been there rising to that occasion. As a dedicated Country Liberal, you've always fought hard for your party's cause in the Territory, and whilst here you stand proudly as a Nat, we know that you stand uniquely as a Country Liberal. For many of us Libs, you're a Nat who we always wanted. We'd have happily traded you in to the Liberal party room at any time and place, happily had you and seized you.


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