Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Parliamentary Representation

Valedictory

5:26 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to pay tribute to our close friend and valued colleague Senator Cory Bernardi. His speech today was again vintage Cory. What we saw was a man with great integrity—honest, direct, warm, humorous—and he will leave this chamber being held in very high regard, I am sure, by most of us in this chamber, if not all of us in this chamber. He is a conviction politician who has always stood up for what he believes in with great fervour. I know that on all sides of this chamber, whether we agree or disagree, we respect the way Cory has approached his engagement in the battle of ideas over his 13 years in this chamber.

Cory has made an outstanding contribution to the Liberal cause and to our nation, but he has, in his remarks tonight, left a significant part of his life out that I believe needs to be put on the public record. Before Cory arrived in the Senate in 2006, he had already made a pretty significant contribution to our country in a different form. Most of you know that, in his younger years, Cory was a talented athlete. As a young rower, he represented South Australia in the state youth eight, rowed for his club and won in the famous Henley Royal Regatta before being selected in the South Australian men's senior eight. In 1989 he became an Australian national representative when he was selected in the coxless four, which competed in the World Rowing Championships in what was then called Yugoslavia. I'm surprised Cory hasn't touched on this today because he does often touch on that part of his life history. For those of you who know your rowing history, you would remember that that particular team became known as the 'Oarsome Foursome' though unfortunately—and Cory has told us this story against himself on a number of occasions in the past—he was a member of that crew before it became awesome. A bad back injury sadly ended Cory's promising rowing career. New recruits came into that crew and they went on to win the world championship and Olympic gold medals.

The Oarsome Foursome were well known. One of the first memories I have of Australia, after coming here as a migrant, were these ads that had an advertising jingle and these Oarsome Foursome singing heads. I believe it was for canned fruit. Cory could have been a great asset to the Oarsome Foursome in that advertisement, because Cory is actually a very good singer. He did not touch on that in his speech either. Over the years he has become quite famous for his karaoke skills, which clearly attest to that.

Rowing's loss eventually became the nation's gain, but not before Cory got some real-life and business experience. He spent time—wait for this—working as a labourer in Libya, building tents for Colonel Gaddafi! And he cheated death after being hit by a car at England's Doncaster Racecourse. Back in Adelaide, Cory bought a share in his family's pub and worked in the popular hotel, hosting and entertaining patrons, including some of the state's senior businesspeople and well-known journalists. He later switched careers to become an investment adviser and fund manager.

But of course Cory was an active and committed member of the Liberal Party. In 1997 he became the South Australian Liberal Party's vice-president, and in 1998, at just 28 years of age, he became state party president. In South Australia at the time, I am reliably informed that he was known as the 'boy king'. Is that right?

Senator Bernardi interjecting—

He later became the youngest-ever federal Liberal Party vice-president, which is when I first met Cory. I was the state vice-president of the Liberal Party in WA at the time. Cory, who was very active as federal vice-president, visited our state conference and that's when we first started to get to know each other, before either of us were in the parliament.

Cory arrived in this place as a Liberal Party senator for South Australia in May 2006, selected to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Robert Hill. I came here the following year and, as Cory outlined, there were four of us—Cory, Michaelia, David and me—who had a very close-knit friendship group at the time, loosely described as the 'G4'. Of course, with any grouping that you're a part of, you always aim to grow the size of the group and I think it's a group that, over time, has had a beneficial impact on a number of significant policy issues for our nation.

The thing I learned very quickly about Cory, and something that is true to this day, is that Cory is very much a conviction politician. To the frustration, perhaps, of some in our party he did not always stick to the talking points, but he always stuck to what he believed in. That is why he leaves the Senate with his integrity absolutely intact and with the very high regard and respect that we hold him in as he departs this place. The old adage is that if you don't believe in something you'll fall for anything; Cory certainly has strong beliefs and he didn't fall for much at all. The things he most believes in are strong family values, individual freedoms, free enterprise and the greatness of the Australian nation.

Cory has always believed that we can use our values and our beliefs to make the future better for our children and our grandchildren. His instincts are towards smaller government and lower taxes, and he asked me another very insightful series of questions on that today. He is economically and socially conservative; in fact, he has often quite appropriately been described as a conservative warrior. Cory's beliefs and convictions have been shown many times in this place. In 2009, together with a number of us, Cory was strongly opposed to Labor's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. We worked together to protect Australians from the impact of that scheme by ultimately being successful in having it defeated in this place. That's something that the Labor Party and the Greens are still talking about, as they were marking the 10-year anniversary of these events earlier in the week.

Cory served as a shadow parliamentary secretary in five different portfolio areas: families and community services; disability, carers and the voluntary sector; for the Leader of the Opposition; infrastructure and population policy; and supporting families. When I arrived in this place, together with Cory, I very much envisaged that we would serve together in a future Liberal-National government and make a significant contribution by serving together in that capacity. That is not the way it played out, sadly. But Cory chose the path that enabled him to best contribute his convictions, his talents and his expertise to the betterment of our nation. Cory has had a very significant impact, both inside the Liberal Party and as part of the broader political debate.

I would have preferred it, personally, if Cory had not chosen to leave the Liberal Party in February 2017 to form a separate party after more than 30 years as a member. I understood his motivations but I said to him at the time, privately, that I thought the Liberal Party would be weaker for not having his voice inside our party room; he had been the conservative conscience inside our party room so eloquently and so effectively on so many occasions. I still hold that view. My wish and aspiration would be for Cory to ultimately rejoin the Liberal Party and the Liberal family. Hopefully, that can still happen. I feel there has been a great, positive rapprochement in recent months which I hope will ultimately lead to him formally rejoining our great organisation.

There is no doubt that Cory leaves this place with his credibility and integrity absolutely intact. He has always stood up for what he believed in, and he has done it with great humour. That is, no doubt, why he had such close and genuine friendships with people on all sides of the chamber. People understand that, with Cory, it is never personal; it is genuinely always engagement in the battle of ideas, trying to find the best possible way of making our country better and stronger for the future.

Cory has given our country 13 years of great service in the Senate and we should all be very grateful for his service. On behalf of the government and on behalf of the Liberal and National parties in the Senate: Cory, thank you so much for what you've done. Our very best wishes to you, Sinead and your whole family for the future. Don't be a stranger. Please keep in touch. The membership form will be in the mail!

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