Wednesday, 4 December 2019
I rise on behalf of the opposition and all of Senator Bernardi's friends on this side of the chamber to acknowledge his contribution to the Senate. I should start by thanking him for the references to me; I'm sure I'll see your fine words about me quoted in a document by my opponents in my next preselection contest!
Senator Bernardi grew up in an Italian migrant family who ran successful hotels in Adelaide, and it was there that he developed a lifelong love of alcohol, which he referred to today. He mentioned gin and tonics. He didn't mention Manhattans or some of the other alcoholic beverages that I know he enjoys. In his youth, he was a champion rower and he was given an AIS scholarship. But his career in that regard was tragically cut short.
I know you won't want me to mention this, Senator Bernardi, but you were of course recruited to the Liberal Party by Christopher Pyne—subsequently your bete noire—and then you were chosen by the Parliament of South Australia to replace Senator Robert Hill. And in this place you were mentored by Nick Minchin—yes, there he is. There is a link between Nick and me. He claims credit for my first political defeat in 1988. I did get even with him. On one occasion I was giving a speech at a fundraiser for the Adelaide Zoo. The fundraiser was to help redevelop Minchin House. I was happy to tell all the people in the audience that, next thing you know, he'd be claiming that he's got a relationship with the Minchin after whom the house was named—and it turned out to be true; he did have a relationship with them. I thought he was a blow in from New South Wales!
Senator Bernardi was first elected to the Senate in 2007 and was subsequently re-elected in 2013 and 2016. We, of course, are both elected representatives of that great state, South Australia. Just as an aside—and, again, Senator Bernardi probably doesn't want me to mention this—he was also born one day apart from our Senate leader, Senator Wong.
Senator Bernardi also represented Australia internationally, attending the United Nations General Assembly as a parliamentary representative. I remember that, at the time, you seemed to think that you got that appointment because your party wanted to get you out of the country. And I think it was there that you realised the terrible state of the Liberal Party. When you came back to Australia you resigned from the Liberal Party to form the Australian Conservatives, absorbing Family First in the process. Unfortunately, the enthusiastic riding of the Trump wave didn't bring you to prosperous electoral shores in Australia. However, you were and always have been a conviction politician—and this is certainly a rare qualification in the ranks of those opposite.
You've also had the good sense to vote independently in your position as a conservative. When the government, in the dying days of the last parliament, sought to outrageously expend taxpayers money on radio and TV advertising, you voted with the opposition to disallow that motion. I think that'll be one of your great achievements in this place.
I'd particularly like to acknowledge the contribution you've made as a committee chair and as a temporary chair here in the Senate. You're an excellent chair of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee and a model for others. You are fair in your distribution of time to the opposition, something I particularly emphasise, and reasonable in your approach to ministers and public servants at estimates. You're not afraid to join in opposition questioning on occasions when you're sceptical about the responses given by ministers or public servants. Similarly, you're an excellent acting deputy president in the Senate, and you could be trusted to preside over debate diligently and impartially. In the committee of the whole you're a sound pair of hands, managing amendments and complicated questions before the chair. And, with all due respect to the current occupant, if things had worked out differently, you would have made a terrific President of the Senate one day.
You also have a pretty good knack of jumping to speak on a bill in senators' statements just before it hits two o'clock—and question time, when of course most senators are in the chamber. And, as we've seen today, you love a good audience! It must be said that you're a strong speaker in this place. You possess the skill of being able to speak eloquently without relying on a written speech. That's a rare skill and has made you a compelling and engaging speaker in this place.
You've been a widely recognised backbencher during your time here in the Senate. You've been outspoken, and that's given you a level of notoriety beyond many in this place—even above ministers. Of course, this has been aided by a very good sense of humour. Your contributions to debate in this place and your adeptness at chairing the Senate and its committees will be missed. The opposition acknowledges your service to the Senate. I'm pretty sure Senator Bernardi will continue to provide a positive contribution to the Australian community after politics.
I'd also like to make reference to Senator Bernardi's wife, Sinead. I wish her all the very best in life after politics. Senator Bernardi has already used this line, but I'm going to use it again: Sinead once famously said that she and Corey were both in love with the same man! I wish them and their two sons, Oscar and Harvey, all the best and hope they enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Coffin Bay on the beautiful Eyre Peninsula.