Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011



7:29 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Education) Share this | | Hansard source

I was, unfortunately, unable to be in the chamber for a number of the valedictories of our retiring senators, so I wanted to take the opportunity tonight to make a few comments. It is indeed a very different Senate chamber without those colleagues.

My Labor colleagues leaving the chamber included Senator Forshaw and Senator Hutchins, who, I think above all else, are very good blokes. They may not have been heard from other parts of the chamber, but they were fairly close across the chamber here from we Nationals down this end and there was some fairly friendly banter often between us. I do wish them all the best.

Senators Hurley and Senator Wortley—we came in together six years ago—have made a really significant contribution and I do wish them all the best as well, as, of course, I do Senator Fielding.

One Labor colleague I particularly wanted to make mention of this evening is Senator—correction former Senator Kerry O'Brien; it is very hard not to keep calling them 'Senator'. He made an enormous contribution for his party, particularly in the area of agriculture. I have worked with Kerry O'Brien for the last six years, particularly on the Senate rural and regional committee, and I never cease to be impressed by his understanding of the issues, his corporate knowledge of the issues and his ability to understand a situation. I commend him for the contribution that he made. Indeed, I thought it was very sad when there was a change of government that he was not given the agriculture portfolio, because I think he would have made a very fine agriculture minister. I do wish him well for his future path.

I was in the chamber for the valedictories for some of my Liberal colleagues—Senator Troeth, Senator Trood and Senator Barnett. See, it is impossible to stop using 'Senator', so I think I will just continue to do so till the end of this as if they were still in the chamber. The three I was not able to be here for were Senator McGauran, Senator Ferguson and Senator Minchin, and I did want to make some comments this evening about those colleagues.

Well, what can one say about Senator McGauran? What a colourful colleague he was—and, hopefully, will continue to be in some way, shape or form for many of us still here in the chamber. Julian was an extraordinary senator. Commenting on the fact that he did leave the Nats and go to the Liberals, I think all of us in this life make choices that fit where we are with life, and Julian chose to do that. While it was very sad that he left us, he did not go far—he only went a little way up the chamber. I do wish him the very, very best. And while he did make a choice that perhaps we were not terribly happy with at the time, it made no difference to our respect for him as a colleague and a friend. We will miss his colourful contribution in the chamber—and, indeed, in Senate estimates.

I remember many years ago in one of the rural and regional Senate estimates a quite famous half-hour or 40 minutes or so. We had just changed over to the new government and we were talking about the government's axing of the Regional Partnerships program, which I have to place on record was one of the best things we did in government, in spite of all the opposition to it. It had some brilliant things and delivered tremendously for regional communities. There was this one discussion around the Tree of Knowledge at Barcaldine. I do not think there will be a more famous moment—certainly it was one of the more famous moments—in Senate estimates. By the end of it Senator McGauran was referring to the Tree of Knowledge as a 'stump'. Even the acting secretary of the department was having great difficulty hiding her mirth at this extraordinary situation. Julian did a tremendous job demolishing the government there on this particular project.

When I first came to this place, Senator Ferguson welcomed we newcomers with such warmth and open arms. It was really quite extraordinary. When you start in this place, as everybody here that is new will know, it is a bit like landing on Mars and you do feel really like a fish out of water. 'Fergie' went out of his way with all of us that were new to make sure that we were comfortable and that we knew we could go to him for advice and assistance. Over the following years there were many times that I went to Fergie really often just in passing and would ask advice or he would say something that I would take heed of. I think he is one of the true statesmen that this chamber has seen for a very long time—probably for a very long time to come in the future. He was and is a true statesman and made an enormous contribution to this place, with a lot of class, a lot of style and the ability to absolutely to cut to the quick of an issue—to be able to in a few short words sum up an issue, sum up a position that we should have. I remember one particular debate that I will not go into and he was in the chair and he declared his position on this piece of legislation, which showed amazing strength of character and showed how much he really did believe in regional Australia and how important regional Australia was to him. I wish him all the very, very best.

Senator Minchin was the coalition leader in the Senate and I often felt for Nick, having to deal with the Nationals, because he bore the brunt of we Nationals, some of us as newbies coming in. We were occasionally a little headstrong, I guess, in some of the thoughts that we had and in some of the decisions we wanted to make. Nick had the most collegiate approach to the coalition in the Senate. It was really quite extraordinary and took a lot of consideration. He was always willing to look at the other side of an argument. He certainly had his views, which were very strongly held, but he always gave the Nationals the respect that he felt they should be afforded. For that I will always thank him. He managed the coalition in the Senate with such aplomb—that is not really the right word; I cannot think of the right word—and in such a great manner and style. He was a tremendous leader of the coalition. Senator Boswell, when remarking on Senator Minchin and Senator Ferguson, said:

Nick and Ferg, you are the cement that binds these parties together. Some people ungenerously describe the National Party leadership as being like the captain of a canoe, but I know that when Barnaby, Wacka and Fiona wanted to cross the floor, there was one thing I could say: 'Don't do this to Nick; we have to look after Nick'. They always said, 'Yes, we have to look after Nick. That was our call—we had to look after Nick.

That was indeed true. There were many times when there were issues on which we might have had a slightly different view from our colleagues here, but the respect we had for Nick gave us a flavour of how we viewed our decisions. Senator Boswell was indeed right in saying that we had great respect for him as leader of the coalition. We very much appreciated the respect that he had for us. He will be a great loss to this chamber. It is wonderful to see so many new senators, who are also going to make a great contribution, but I think it is very important that we do note those who are retiring and the contributions they made. I thank Nick Minchin and all our other colleagues that are no longer here in the chamber with us.

In this chamber we often have cross-party interaction—a lot that those in the outside world do not necessarily see. I am very grateful for the flavour of that cross-party conversation. I think it is important to note we are not always yelling and screaming at each other across the chamber. I wish Nick Minchin all the very best in his future path and thank all of my colleagues for the contributions they have made here in this place.