Wednesday, 13 February 2019
I have been fortunate in my life to have three honours bestowed on me. The first was to be made a life member of the Apex clubs of Sapphire City and Inverell. Sadly, Apex is waning throughout Australia. The second honour bestowed on me was back in 2006, when the New South Wales National Party Central Council preselected me as No. 1 on their Senate ticket. Hence, at the 2007 election, I was the 532nd Australian elected to the Senate since 1901. The third honour bestowed on me was to have a cricket ground in Perth named after me called the WACA! Well, it's worth a try. I'll check with Peter Taylor later on.
I'm glad to have contributed almost 11 years of my time here. When I first started, we received a $4,800 a year increase to our electoral allowance. I thought I could live without it, so each year I have donated it to a rural dental scholarship, for someone from a regional area who is going to do a first year dentistry degree, in the hope that they will return to regional areas and increase the number of dentists out there. It has been a very successful program. Each and every one of those who have come forward for the scholarship have done very well. Something like six or seven of them have completed their degrees and are now practising dentistry in regional Australia. Can I thank the National Rural Health Alliance for their management of that scholarship. Geri Malone is here today. I went to school with Geri in the early 1960s in Jamestown.
One of the great jobs I've had here is chairing the Parliamentary Friendship Group between Australia and Ireland. I thank Your Excellency, Mr Breandan O Caollai, and your wife, Carmel, for being here today. It has been a wonderful time meeting you and having something to do with you, and I hope one day we can visit your country.
Over the almost 11 years I've been in the Senate, I've been pleased to play a role in many things. I remember back in January 2009, when I had been a senator for seven months, I was called up to Redcliffe and Brisbane to meet the victims of Storm Financial. It was not a pretty picture, I can assure you. There were people who were 65, 75 and even older who had worked all their lives, saved, got some financial advice and invested in Storm Financial. It looked like they would be kicked out their houses onto the street. They were way past their working life. They could not rebuild. All I could promise them was a parliamentary inquiry, which we had, which was conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services. The government's response to that inquiry became the FOFA laws. The committee was chaired by—what was his name?—Bernie Ripoll. That's the bloke. Sorry, Bernie, I forgot your name. Terrible on names, I am!
The one sad thing that I see about the Senate is that it works a lot better than the public think. When the public look at the TV, they see hand grenades being thrown around the chamber—a bitter atmosphere. It is not like that at all. We work closely together on our committee work and we have achieved so much.
I remember when I launched a banking inquiry back in 2011. We were in Parliament House in Sydney, on Macquarie Street, and I asked one of the bank chiefs, 'Why did your bank give a 30-year loan to a 97-year-old lady who's in an aged-care facility?' Strange enough, the senator with a strong Scottish accent interjected, which is pretty rare in this place! He said: 'How old did you say she was, Senator Williams?' I said, 'Ninety-seven, Senator Cameron.' He said, 'Must be a bloody good aged-care facility!' The bank manager went to jail for six months.
In 2009, I launched the liquidators inquiry. I see they're in the headlines again today. We had full unified recommendations. Sadly, nothing was done for many years, and I thank Kelly O'Dwyer for bringing those changes in now. We had one liquidator who did not have a very good reputation. He was in charge of Carlovers, a Malaysian car washing company. He took overseas trips. He took his kids overseas, went on holidays et cetera. He spent three years in jail once we'd finished with him. It took Carlovers $1.8 million to fight in the courts to have him removed. Now, with a majority vote in value of the creditors, with just one meeting, the liquidators can be removed. So that's made them sharpen their pencil and hopefully do their job better.
I remember going to a meeting in Sydney. I'd been invited there by a bloke by the name of Mr Jeff Morris. We had an interesting chat about financial planning. I'll talk more about that later on. Not that long ago we completed the life insurance inquiry, and there's certainly some work due there. I'm glad to see the FSC has adopted virtually every recommendation it can in relation to life insurance. Of course, I pushed for a royal commission for many years. That's just been wound up, and I will have more to say about that soon as well. The best of the Senate is when the committees are working together, and I'll talk about our franchise inquiry before I finish as well.
I remember, after meeting with Jeff Morris, a whistleblower from Commonwealth Financial Planning, we were in Senate estimates and I asked a question to ASIC. I said, 'Why did it take you 16 months to act on the whistleblower's information about the Commonwealth Bank, the "ferrets"?' We got a strange answer which was nowhere near the answer. So I repeated the question, and, once again, no answer. I turned to the then chair, Mark Bishop, a Western Australian Labor senator, and said, 'Chair, how do you get these people to answer a question?' Talking about Senator Cameron, his staff member said, 'Hey, Dougie, the belt and Wacka are up.' So Senator Cameron came up to the committee room, and he said to me, 'I'm coming in to help you out, mate.' He put a few questions to ASIC in probably a firmer way than I did. When we'd finished that question session and Senator Cameron had read the riot act, he said to me, 'Wacka, we should have an inquiry into ASIC.' I said, 'Good idea.' It was Senator Cameron's idea. We launched the inquiry, and it became clear that Macquarie Private Wealth and the whole financial planning systems were so wrong. The inquiry was chaired by Mark Bishop, a good fellow from Western Australia—a good bloke—and he did a good job. We recommended a royal commission. That was when a royal commission was recommended by a committee—when we had the inquiry into ASIC. Now it's a bit sad to see the politics being played, but, if both sides of the chamber had listened to that recommendation back in those days, in 2014, we would have achieved a lot more a lot sooner. However, as they say, better late than never.
Things I have achieved people would probably not be familiar with: the Personal Property Securities Act and the Personal Property Securities Register. It probably means nothing to the people of Australia, but hire companies would hire their machinery or their equipment out, and, if they hired it out for longer than 12 months, they'd have to register it on the Personal Property Securities Register. If they made one digit mistake on their ABN or ACN number or anything on the date, it was invalid. If the company who'd hired their equipment went broke, the receivers and the banks could take their equipment. The hire companies actually lost their equipment. I'm glad to have been part of getting that changed. It's now up to two years, and we put some relief on the industry as it is now. Can I say that the best work we do in the Senate here is the work people never know about. It's the work we do behind the scenes, working with people, solving problems. I think that's part of politics—solve as many problems as you can for the people you represent.
I've had a very fortunate life, when I look back at family history. My grandfather, Eric, served on the battlefields of France. My late father, Reg, was a rear gun on a Lancaster bomber—apparently not a very good job at all. I was of the fortunate generation; I never had to go to war. Perhaps the only wars I've fought were in this building. Had a few wins, had a few losses.
I have a long list of thankyous to go through here. Can I start with our Clerk, Richard Pye, and your staff, who are magnificent people who work hard and are very well respected. Thank you, Richard, Maureen, Tim, Jane, Jackie and all the crew for the wonderful work you do. Your advice is always spot on and you're always very relaxed.
Of course we needed your advice big time in a recent inquiry into the franchise industry, where Senator Ketter, Senator Whish-Wilson, Senator Deb O'Neill and I were involved in a hearing. It was the first time in 10½ years that we actually had to summons a witness, Mr Tony Alford from Retail Food Group. We wrote to Mr Alford and Ms Atkinson and said, 'We have the power to summons you,' and the reply was, 'If you summons us, we'll take you to the High Court.' It united the committee like never before. Each and every one of us, right around the political scene, ganged up and said, 'We won't be pushed about.' We put the summons on them and they took us to the High Court. They ran second, and there are no second prizes in court decisions. It reaffirmed that we do have the power to summons people.
The franchise industry inquiry has been a big inquiry. We will report very soon. There's a lot of repair to do there. We've had a lot of inquiries into the franchise industry since the mid-1970s. The fact that we're doing it again proves we never got it right. I hope that when that inquiry is handed down and the election is out of the road, the government acts on it and acts on it quickly.
The friendship built through the committee work is unbelievable. As I said, it's a sad perception that in this chamber we seem to be all enemies. That is not the case. In fact, I remember when we had an induction into here—our training before we were sworn in—they said, 'Some of your best friends will be on the other side.' How true that is.
As I said, I have a long list of thankyous. To the chamber staff—John, Adrian, Bryan, Fiona, Rosemary and Commodore Wally—thank you for your great work and for helping us all the time. Thanks to the COMCAR drivers that we get spoiled rotten with. Thanks to the security people around here that keep us safe in this building—sadly that's the case these days; you need a lot of security.
I want to make special thank you to the bank representation. I've worked closely with the banks. People might think I'm the banks' enemy, but I'm not. I thank the banks who worked closely with me, and Aaron Willins, Jade Clarke, Rob Londale from ANZ and many others. I thank them for working with us, because when we work the problems out behind the scenes there are no headlines and virtually no cost. Often I say, 'Well, the bank has got it wrong here,' but many, many times I say, 'No, the customer has got it wrong as well.' It's good to be able to sort those problems out behind the closed doors.
Can I thank the senators in this place. First of all, to my Liberal colleagues, it's been great to work with you all, and I enjoyed your company very much. We rarely had a disagreement; just the very odd one on the odd occasion.
Senator McKenzie interjecting—
Seriously, it's not funny, Senator McKenzie; you're exaggerating! We've worked very well together, and I've enjoyed your friendship and fellowship very much. Thanks to the Nats senators, you crew around here. I acknowledge former Senator Ron Boswell over there, and former Senator Fiona Nash. Great people. Bozzie, you're a legend. You left a great mark in this place and this country.
Honourable senators interjecting—
And a hanky, yes! Senator Nash, I wonder how many people have sat in this place or the other chamber since 1901 with dual citizenship. Would it be dozens or would it be hundreds? However, it came to light and, sadly, former Senator Fiona Nash, we lost you. You were a great mentor to me and a great friend, and I wish you all the best. My Senate colleagues. To our leader Nigel Scullion, thanks, mate, for your friendship, leadership and guidance. One of your great passions is our First Australians, and you've worked very hard. To our deputy leader, Senator Bridget McKenzie, you're good at sport, Bridge, and I know you love the portfolio of sport, from netball to clay duck shooting. I wish you all the best. To Senator Matt Canavan—it looks like he's not here. Where is he?
Honourable senators: He's behind you!
He's behind me. I was nearly going to call you green bottle, mate.
Thanks, Matt, for all your great work and friendship as well. To Steve Martin, it's great to have you on board from Tasmania—I wish you all the best. And to my good mate Senator O'Sullivan, I know what you've done, Barry. I know the people you've helped and I know how generous you are, and I thank you very much for your great work for many, many people.
I'd like to thank the media, who I've worked closely with. I've had a really good run with the media! There was only once when I was in a bit of a jam. Let me explain it to you. I was doing an interview with BBC in London with a bloke by the name of Phil Williams, no relation. It was over two illegal immigrants. Their names were Pistol and Boo. This is how it went: 'On the line we have Senator Williams with us, a good friend of Minister Joyce. Good evening, Senator Williams.' I said, 'Good evening, Phil.' He asked, 'Why does Australia have such strict quarantine?' Well, you know the spiel: we're a clean, green country; we're a big food-exporting country; we need to keep the diseases out and so on. Then he played it—the tape. He said, 'Let me play what your minister said.' Minister Joyce: 'As far as I'm concerned, Pistol and Boo can bugger off back to the States.' I thought, 'What am I going to say here?' Phil asked, 'Senator, is that how ministers speak in the Australian parliament?' I scratched my head and said, 'You must remember one thing, Phil, and never forget it: the English invented the English language, but Australia perfected it!' At that, he burst out laughing, and I got out of jail—out of that wedge.
Can I thank the media I've worked with. Now, I'm going to start with the really important media. To Ando at radio 2VM in Moree—I talk to you all the time, Ando, and you're a great fella. We never played politics—we simply got the message out that people needed to learn about things that are changing here. To radio 2AD, Pete Raymond and his team, in Armidale. To Inverell radio—and we're actually being broadcast live on 91.9 FM radio in Inverell now—to Gerry Taveira, John Shaw and the crew up there, thank you very much for your time and support and the way that the media helps us get the message out about what we're doing. To the ABC, both in regional Tamworth and Muswellbrook, thank you for your great work. It's always been a pleasure to talk to you. And thank you to Prime and NBN in Tamworth.
Can I thank many in the media here in Parliament House. We've become good friends, and I think you've been very fair to me. But I think the reason you're fair to me is I just answer the question. I remember I was doing an interview with Patricia Karvelas one day for ABC Radio National. I was on the tractor. I had to talk to her at five past five, so I set my alarm for five o'clock to turn the tractor off, cool it down, cool the turbo down and turn it off. At five past five the phone rang, and the question went something like this: 'Senator, what's the government doing about that?' I said, 'I don't know.' She said, 'But you're part of the government.' I said, 'I don't talk to the Prime Minister every morning. He doesn't ring me first up.' I asked, 'Would you like me to make something up?' At that, she laughed, and we've been pretty good friends ever since. So the message is: tell the truth all the time and you'll get a good run, folks! Can I thank my friends in the media. I can't name you all, but you know who I'm talking about—Joe Kelly, Sabra Lane, Lane Calcutt, Phil Coorey, Mark Riley and many of you here. You've been very kind to me. We've become good friends, and I've enjoyed your friendship. And thank you for never ringing me after party room meetings because you knew I wouldn't talk to you anyway.
When it comes to the media, can I please thank the great team at Sky News—David Speers and my good friend Janine Perrett, who is here today from Sydney. Thank you, Janine. I'm sorry Paul Murray couldn't make it—it's a late scratching—and Ross Greenwood as well. Can I thank my great mate Piers Akerman. In this job, you get to meet some great people, and, Piers Akerman, you're one of them. When I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, Piers Akerman went along to a Parkinson's conference to find out what he could learn about the disease to help me. That's a testament to what sort of people he and his wife, Susan, are.
But one of the great things Piers Akerman did was many years ago in Adelaide at The Advertiser. He gave a young lady a start in the media. Her name was Adele Ferguson AM. Adele, we've done a lot of work together and we've achieved a lot together. Thank you for being here today with Christian and with your daughter. I will cherish the memories. As Adele said to me, 'When the media and politics teams up, it becomes very powerful.' When I first met with Jeff Morris, the whistleblower from Commonwealth Financial Planning, he asked, 'Senator, what should we do?' I said, 'I think you should give it to the media.' He asked, 'Do you know anyone?' I said, 'Yes, I do.' I handed the story to Adele Ferguson: 900 pages for her to read. Out of that came some changes for the betterment of all Australia and a Gold Walkley Award for Adele Ferguson. Well done! You'll have to extend your house soon, Adele, to fit all the awards in!
I thank the Inverell community; they've been great supporters of mine. They've been very good to me. We have a serious fire up there today; it's burnt about 15,000 acres in the Tingha area. I hope everyone is safe and I hope they get on top of it.
I need to thank my staff. When I started on 1 July 2008 I had four full-time staff: Greg Kachel; Debbie Kachel, his wife; Heather Morris; and Gary Lamrock. Here we are, nearly 11 years later, and my four full-time staff are: Greg Kachel; his wife, Debbie Kachel; Heather Morris; and Gary Lamrock. That means I'm either a pretty good boss or jobs are bloody scarce in Inverell—one of the two! But people know what Greg's like; he works hard. You can ring my office in Inverell at 7 o'clock in the morning and Greg's there to answer it every weekday. Everyone in the building knows Greg and how reliable he is. He gets back to you all the time. Thank you, Greg, for your great work, for your mentoring and for slowing my speech down when we first got here.
You often hear Greg calling the races on Sky, 'We'll now cross to Inverell to Greg Kachel in Moree,' or wherever he's calling the races from. He's a great race caller and a great talent. He's been 32 years in radio, including 18 years as manager. I think the best scalp I ever got was getting you to come with me, mate! Thank you for your great work.
To Debbie, your wife: thank you for all your filling in of the diary—telling me where to go, literally. Deb's good at that! It was the diary I lived on, and Deb kept it up to date. She also got very well known with immigration issues; any immigration issue went straight to Deb.
To Heather Morris, a former Commonwealth Bank staffer: thank you for keeping me off the front pages for doing the wrong travel claims and all the other things we have to go through. You're an expert at that. And to Gary Lamrock: Gary did all my internet, website and all the work in communications. When I got equal first with Barnaby Joyce for the best communicator, that was you, Gary Lamrock. It's a great scheme, Mr President: they do the work and I get the praise. How much better does it get than that?
To Lyn Bull and my casual staff: thank you for your work and support. I've been blessed to have the same staff—I think it would be a record. Of the 226 politicians in this building, who can say that they've had the same four full-time staff as when they started nearly 11 years ago? So I'm very proud of that.
Where are we up to? I thank people so much for attending today. People have travelled a long way. My sister, Pauline, and her husband are here from Perth; my brother, Peter, and his wife, Carol, are here from Inverell; and there are my good friends from South Australia. We have been friends for many years, Michael Kelly and I. We met in 1960 and became mates. We played football together and we played tennis together. He was best man at both my weddings—you won't be getting a hat-trick, matey, I can assure you of that! To Bill Hoffman, Greg Boston, Rick Kelly, Liz Kelly and many who have travelled from Inverell down here: thank you so much for being here and for being part of it as I say goodbye to the Senate.
To my family: it's great to have my eldest son, David, here and his wife, Tammy, with my three grandsons: Finn, Ryan and Jackson in my office. It's wonderful to have you here and to have my daughter, Becky, here with her newborn, two-month-old little boy, Lewis. I'm sorry your husband, Pat, couldn't make it, and the two girls, Ella and Lucy, but we'll catch up with them soon. And to my younger son, Tom, and your wife, Dr Sarah Williams—I must add—and your little girl, Claudia, who is five months old: it's great to have you here. Thank you so much for your support and understanding.
And now to my wife, Nancy. Thank you for your unending support and your understanding. I look forward to getting home and spending every minute with you for the rest of my life. And that's stumps, Mr President. Good luck, everyone, keep well!
I suspect valedictory speeches are a bit like arguing with your wife: you feel it's important to have the last word! There is also the humbling thought that, if you don't sing your own praises, nobody else will. I've already given three speeches setting out what I regard as my achievements in this place. It's not a short list and I don't plan to go over it again. However, I do want to mention two that I'm particularly proud of. One is saving the Malabar rifle range in Sydney for shooters. At the time I was elected, the government had lost two court battles in its efforts to kick the shooters off but was nonetheless engaging in a war of attrition intended to force them off. I convinced the shooters that they should agree to leave if they were provided with somewhere to go of equivalent standard. I informed Senator Cormann that the shooters would sign a lease containing that provision. I also made the point that the land could be sold for hundreds of millions of dollars if the government so decided. It helped that Senator Cormann is a very decent guy. But he is also committed to bringing the budget under control and paying off Labor's debt, so I got his attention. But the poor chap never got to first base when it came to selling the land. There were just too many big government statists on his own side. Nonetheless, he worked with me to ensure the shooters got a secure lease, which includes a provision under which the shooters will leave if they are provided with somewhere to go. So, if we ever do have a government that doesn't think owning highly valuable waterfront land is good government policy, it has a way out. From my point of view, the deal secured the future of the shooting sports in the Sydney Basin for the next 50 years. I'm very proud of that.
The second was forcing the government to limit the childcare subsidy to those earning less than $350,000 a year. The government was proposing to leave it open-ended so even those earning a million dollars a year could receive a subsidy. In the interests of accuracy, I should mention that I got Senator Hinch involved, too; one vote was not enough. The debate was interesting. The government, Labor and my new best friend, Senator Hanson-Young of the Greens, all spoke against the amendment. Senator Hanson-Young said it was 'galling' for a middle-aged white bloke to be deciding whether women should get child care. But the amendment went through on the voices. Nobody wanted to go on the record as voting in favour of such an egregious example of middle-class welfare. As proof that there's more work to do, I note that I pushed a more ambitious amendment as well to reduce the childcare subsidy for those earning more than $250,000 a year, but this amendment was widely opposed. Middle-class welfare remains a huge problem in this country.
I gave my first speech in this place on 9 July 2014. I was the first of the new crossbench to do so, and since Nick Xenophon's resignation I have been the only one of that crossbench of eight still here. In that speech, I declared that I would never vote for a reduction in liberty or an increase in taxes. I am pleased to say I have stuck to that promise. When bills involve more spending, I don't spend time thinking about them; I simply vote against them. I do the same with bills that increase taxes. If it is to reduce spending, my support is never in doubt; and, if it involves any reduction in our rights and freedoms, count me out.
I have been told many times by people in this place—fellow senators, staffers and media—'At least we know where you stand.' George Brandis referred to me in his valedictory speech as showing 'crystal-clear consistency'. I confess I was at first a bit perplexed by the fact that adhering to clear principles was such a novelty. For some reason—naively, perhaps—I assumed everyone had principles and that's why they were here. It took a while for me to discover that what people believe and what they do in this place are quite different. In fact, I now realise I am rather unusual. But I'm not totally unique. Former senator Lee Rhiannon had clear principles and kept to them. I note that her principles were substantially different from mine, but the fact is we both consistently stuck to our principles. She understood that too. In fact, we had a very cordial chat about it before she resigned last year. It saddens me that people regularly tell me privately how much they agree with me but then vote for something completely contradictory. I am so glad I haven't had to abandon my beliefs in order to retain my seat and salary. I wonder what the outcome would be if there were more like me.
But there is something else I had in common with Lee Rhiannon. While we were never friends, we got on at a personal level. The reason is that both of us play the ball rather than the man. That's something her fellow Greens could well do to emulate, as could a number of other senators. Nick Xenophon played the ball too, though he didn't think of it in those terms. I used to explain to him that, just because he was wrong about practically everything, it didn't mean he was a bad person or that I didn't like him! There are people in this place who go for the person rather than the issue, and they are bad people.
But I would like to return to the matter of principles. When I came into this place, my mission was to convince my fellow Australians and their political representatives that our governments should forgo their over-governing, overtaxing and overriding ways. I am a libertarian. I support John Stuart Mill's view that the only purpose for which power can ever be rightfully exercised over another member of a civilised community against his will is to prevent harm to others. I believe governments should limit themselves to what John Locke advised so wisely more than 300 years ago: the protection of life, liberty and private property. But it's been a challenge. When I was elected, Tony Abbott was Prime Minister; then came Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison. I kept hoping there might be changes in approach. It's true the rhetoric changed a bit and there was a bit of a difference in emphasis, but in reality there's been no deviation from the big-spending, big-taxing approach to government—the idea that government can fix pretty much everything by more regulation and spending other people's money. I've had plenty to disagree with. Notwithstanding the reduction in personal income tax and the attempt to reduce company taxes, both of which I strongly supported, there have been increases in taxes. There was the GST on low-value imports, which will cost more to collect than it will raise, the increase in superannuation taxes, the major bank levy, the diverted profits tax, the huge tobacco tax increases, the reintroduction of fuel tax indexation and the increase in the passenger movement charge—all under a Liberal government.
There have also been monstrosities such as the Banking Executive Accountability Regime, which assumes public servants know better than the banks how they should be run. There has been a flood of national security bills which make us all less free and no more safe, give access to our metadata to snoops and, most recently, the absurd idea that somehow Australia can force software companies to allow access to encrypted messages. In each case, of course, there were those arguing it was necessary, but as William Pitt the Younger observed:
Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.
There are some other points I'd like to make in this, my final speech in this place. I am not leaving politics, at least that's not the plan. I still think I have a useful contribution to make at beating back the nanny state, but I want to do it in my home state of New South Wales. In the previous parliament I chaired an inquiry into the nanny state. In this parliament I chaired an inquiry into red tape. Over and over we would make recommendations for change that could only be made at the state level for things like occupational licensing, vaping and smoking, gambling, lockouts, assisted suicide, cannabis, motorbikes, fishing, bicycle helmets and traffic issues, and there are many more.
My aim is to use the skills I have developed in this place to achieve changes to state law from the crossbench of the New South Wales Legislative Council. Those skills obviously include leveraging my vote. On the crossbench, we all long for the occasions when the government needs our vote on an issue and we could vote either way, but also negotiation based on reason, common sense and evidence. Strange as it sometimes seems in this place, once in a while I have found these to be persuasive. As to my mission, I am satisfied that I have now made Australians aware that there is no need to take for granted the idea that the government is the solution to every problem. A growing number of people even agree with me that government is more often the problem itself. And I am no longer told my political philosophy is confused. While I'm regularly labelled as right wing, that's mostly by people who don't know what it means. My support for same-sex marriage, for assisted suicide, for cannabis legalisation, for civil rights does not fit very well with the right-wing label. That's because libertarianism is about the freedom of the individual, not merely liberalism within certain parameters. In fact, we libertarians have a little saying: libertarians are plotting to take over the world and leave everyone alone.
I can't say I have enjoyed being a crossbench senator all that much. I care about the work a great deal, and it's never boring, but the sheer volume of work is horrendous, the pace ridiculous and the frustrations endless. I know I'm not Robinson Crusoe; I acknowledge the workload of senators beyond the crossbench, where unsung committee work can be gruelling. And I have got to know some very nice people here. The Senate staff, of course, are highly professional and courteous. Committee secretariat staff are very high quality. There's Parliament House security, some of whom are sporting shooters and who support me. There's Annie in the canteen, and the Comcar people. I've also developed friendly relationships with some fellow senators—not just a good number of crossbench senators, but senators on the government side such as Senators Cormann, Scullion, Cash, Canavan, Hume, Ruston and Macdonald, plus senators on Labor's side like Senators Marshall, McAllister, Moore, Farrell and Wong. In fact, I feel guilty leaving out people because, in reality, there are very few with whom I am not on friendly terms, and they're probably not here now anyway. I am placing my political future in the hands of the voters of New South Wales. If they want me to maintain the fight for libertarian values, they will elect me. If not, I'll return to the private sector and my business. I'll accept either outcome.
Finally, I would like to thank those who've worked alongside me over the last five years: Duncan Spender and Max Rheese, my loyal and hardworking senior advisers, who have been on this journey with me the entire time, plus my other four loyal and diligent staff. It's a matter of some pride that, unlike most of my crossbench colleagues, I have never dismissed any of my staff. I'm also pretty sure that all of them will still vote for me. Last but not least, I would like to thank my wife of 35 years, Amanda. She loves what I do, misses me when I'm away in Canberra but is hoping like hell I get elected in New South Wales so I don't spend too much time at home. Politics is not easy. Thank you.
I rise to respond to Senator Williams's and Senator Leyonhjelm's valedictories and, on behalf of the government, to thank them for their service to this parliament, their states, regional Australia—in relation to our friend John Williams—and, of course, our country.
Let me start with Senator Williams. In fulfilling its democratic purpose, it is fair to say, this place throws together a diverse mix of people and personalities. I dare say that our friend Senator John 'Wacka' Williams would be counted among the most authentic and decent characters that the Senate chamber has seen. While those traits have undoubtedly helped him get away with his, at times, borderline humour—but always a very entertaining sense of humour, of course—they've also rightly earned him the respect and endearment of so many on all sides in this chamber. He has brought a perspective to this place that few can match, from a life reaching from a farm near Jamestown to grazing land near Inverell, through decades spent in private business and myriad local community organisations, ultimately leading to the federal parliament here in Canberra. Years spent shearing sheep, driving livestock and grain trucks and working on the family farm have ensured that when John has spoken up for Australia's farming communities, he has done so from the most authoritative position of all, a rugged experience. Indeed, when he first arrived in this place, he referred to his alma mater as the university of real-life experience. Nowhere has John's passion been stronger or his focus firmer than when it came to standing up for Australia's farmers, pastoralists and graziers, time and again marshalling his wealth of experience to articulate their interests and craft public policy that delivered for them. Crucially, his own insights were always complimented by those of the regional and rural communities with which he, to this day, maintains a very real and personal connection.
One of John's consistent priorities has been upskilling the next generation. He has worked hard to connect young people in regional and rural communities to scholarships and higher education opportunities, particularly in the crucial STEM fields. He demonstrated his commitment—and he referenced this during his valedictory contribution—when he donated a $4,800 increase in his electorate allowance to establish a scholarship for country based students studying dentistry. That scholarship was the first of many and continues to change lives and touch country communities today.
John's most famous contribution, no doubt, has been borne out of his tireless advocacy for those Australians who have been the victims of malfeasance within the financial sector. Here, he combined his passion for justice with a sharp intellect and great determination. I suspect that many a person who has found themselves on the receiving end of his questions at Senate committee hearings has quickly come to realise that the ABC was right to dub him 'a tenacious and wily inquisitor'. His efforts have helped to secure tangible improvements in Australia's largest industry that are today making it harder for the shocking behaviour of the past to be repeated.
Notably, he championed the creation of the Australian Financial Complaints Authority, which came into being just months ago and is already staking out an important place within the nation's financial services integrity framework. When away from the committee room, he has served as the ever ready Nationals Whip in the Senate for many, many years. I'm told that with its funniest member now departing, those in the early morning whips' meetings are now searching for someone to brighten them up as they start another exciting day in our nation's capital.
With his shearer's fingers twitching, John has never once allowed life in the Canberra circuit to blot out the world outside. I note that he first joined Apex in 1981—he referenced this—and was granted life membership of its Sapphire City club in 1995 and that even today he's a member of the Inverell East Rotary Club. Here, again, the words from his first speech ring true when he lauded his native Jamestown as 'a community where people were and still are willing to lend a hand to others'. Be it in the Senate chamber or a paddock in country New South Wales, John has very clearly carried that spirit with him throughout his life.
I also recognise and acknowledge the efforts of his staff, in particular those of Greg, Deb, Garry and Heather, who, I gather, are the only staff you have ever had in the whole period in this place, which is, indeed, quite an amazing achievement. I recognise the efforts of his staff who have worked in John's team from his very first day here. John is known to say that their longevity probably owes to the lack of other jobs in Inverell, and he made that joke here today. But in the spirit of this evening, I think we'll give him the benefit of the doubt: we know that they stayed around not only because he's an incredible boss but also because they were part of something exciting in terms of the contribution that they were able to make with you to the betterment of your community and communities around Australia and, indeed, our nation.
John, you've been a superb colleague and have achieved something very special here, forging a reputation for clear and unwavering conviction but never letting that passion detract from a decency and collegiality that you have extended to parliamentarians of all sides. We wish you, Nancy and your beautiful family all the very best for your future endeavours and hope that you enjoy some well-deserved rest on the farm—I'm not sure that it's all that restful when you're back at home. It's certainly not restful when I go back home and we all get a list of jobs that need to be done! Nevertheless, I wish you and we wish you all the very best for your future together, and no doubt we will all stay in touch over the months and years to come. Happy shearing!
I also would like to mark the contribution of Senator David Leyonhjelm. Coming to the Senate as a self-declared libertarian, David has left a lasting mark on the parliament during his time here. David's senatorial career began with a first speech that traced his philosophical bearings to those thinkers who shaped so much of the world that we live in today: Mill, Locke, Hume and many others. David has been consistently faithful to those ideas. He has defended the notion of individual freedom and enterprise with energy and intellectual rigour. Given his status as a stalwart of constitutionalism and liberal democracy, I can't help but note a tinge of irony in the fact that he is, in fact, the descendant of Swedish nobility, dating back to the Leijonhielm barony of 1719—and I see him smile. I guess we don't have to worry that the sequence of citizenship followed all the way through the generations of nobility moving forward since 1719. In light of the churn in Senate membership over the past 18 months, I assume that we can safely surmise that those ties with Swedish nobility were comprehensively cut some time ago—an individualist to the end!
In the years since he delivered that first speech, it has been well established that David's affinity for abstract political principles is matched by a formidable policy brief and keen intellect. His contributions have also been informed by a stock of life experience that he has leveraged regularly—lessons gleaned by growing up on his family dairy farm in western Victoria, practising professionally as a veterinarian, running his own business and pursuing a range of extracurricular activities, most notably as an avid and accomplished shooter. Reflecting on that hobby, I must say that it is not all that difficult to determine when you find yourself in David's sights! David has always displayed considerable intellectual strength. He was never afraid to be in a minority of one, although it doesn't really help being in a minority of one when you try to call for a division, as he had to learn reasonably quickly when he first arrived! He was the patron saint of many unfashionable causes here in this place, but only if they were consistent with freedom of enterprise and the individual. While he always knew where he stood, even if on occasion that was alone, he also made a great effort to engage with the government constructively on a broad range of issues, and that's something I particularly personally very much appreciate. In particular, I draw attention to the occasions on which he supported the government's efforts to strengthen our economy, create more jobs and build a brighter future for the Australian people. At those moments, stretched, as I referred to in question time earlier, from the start of the government's term, with his strong support for the abolition of the carbon and mining taxes, he was a reliable supporter of budget repair and the rule of law, as can be seen with his backing of the re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission. At other times, we have differed on the issues, but whatever the topic David has put forward his views frankly, forthrightly and forcefully, in the best traditions of our country's democracy.
David, it has been an absolute pleasure having you as a colleague over the past several years. I've always very much enjoyed working with you and I've always appreciated the spirit in which you engaged with us, looking creatively for solutions that could help secure a consensus to enable the country to move forward. As you prepare to leave this place, we thank you again for your service. We know that you aspire to provide some more public service in another place. Best of luck, but, whatever the future holds, we wish you and your wife, Amanda, all the very best for your future.
As Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, I rise to briefly respond to the valedictory statements of Senators Williams and Leyonhjelm. First to 'Wacka' Williams. As he said today, he was born in Jamestown, South Australia and somehow, via a career as a truck driver, shearer, farmer, small-business owner and other things, ended up as a senator for New South Wales. Some South Australians might regard that as a step backwards! We reckon that the fact that he has his roots in the mid-north is probably part of the reason why he is a pretty good bloke.
The qualities which make him a good bloke are what somebody described as a 'generally convivial nature'. He hasn't always had positive things to say about some on this side, but he's also had some generous things to say about some on this side. One of the things that Senator Williams talked about today, and I was thinking about it as I was listening to him, was the relationships that people have—genuine friendships and respectful relationships across the chamber. He's right: it's one of the things that we do value—that I do value—and probably one of the things that we don't nurture enough or speak about enough in this place. It didn't surprise me, actually, that Senator Williams spoke fondly of Doug Cameron. I think both senators Williams and Cameron bring to this place an authenticity and a genuineness, both in the way they operate but also in the friendships that they have.
Senator Williams' genuineness and character have led him to take some pretty strong positions on various policy areas over the years. He's probably caused those opposite me more worries, in many ways, than this side of the chamber. He's certainly been prepared to put his view, even when it didn't accord with the views of the collective of the government, or the opposition, as they were for a number of years. We might have said at the time that he should have gone harder, but it is the case that he certainly was prepared to put his views. Senator Williams used forums, such as the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services and other forums, to shine a light where many people might have preferred he go a little more quietly.
I'd also say, as chair of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, that he has actually assisted the opposition in maintaining scrutiny on government regulations. In this place, we do require—if we are to function effectively, particularly on committees—some commitment and dedication from senators from all sides of the chamber. I do want to express on behalf of the opposition our thanks and respect to Senator Williams for the approach he's taken to the committee work.
I think it's a tribute to the esteem in which Senator Williams is held that so many people were here today for his valedictory. I've never had the chamber that full for me, so you're doing better! He is an authentic bloke. I was remembering one time when he said across the chamber to me something like: 'You've got a lovely smile! You should smile more!' I thought at the time that there aren't many blokes from whom I'd take that nicely, and I did. So, tick—there you go! It's because he's a decent bloke.
I thank him for his service to the Senate since 2008, and on behalf of all Labor senators I wish you well, Wacka, for your retirement.
Senator Leyonhjelm: I remember meeting Senator Leyonhjelm when he first came in—reading about him and thinking: 'Wow! This bloke, he's right out there.' Then I had a meeting with him pretty early on, with Bill Shorten. Afterwards, Bill and I talked to each other—I think it was with a couple of the crossbenchers—and I said: 'Well, it's going to be pretty clear, isn't it? He's got a really consistent view. He actually has a philosophical view and we know what we might get him on and we know what we won't get him on.' And, actually, that's been pretty much the case.
Your comments, Senator Leyonhjelm, about having principles and consistency are correct. I have pretty much always been able to look at a piece of legislation or a procedural matter and know broadly where I reckon your vote would be. That was kind of efficient, wasn't it, because then I didn't have to go to you if I really knew you weren't going to support us. But if there was a chance then we could have a chat!
As he notes, Senator Leyonhjelm is the last senator standing from the crossbench wave that entered this place in July 2014. Now he's decided that the regulations of the state of New South Wales are in his sights. Senator Leyonhjelm has prosecuted his case with zeal. I want to thank him for his early and public stand on marriage equality. That was helpful to the debate. Whilst there are a number of areas of policy on which he and the Labor Party don't agree, I do want to record that Senator Leyonhjelm always dealt with me civilly, always dealt with me honestly and was willing to listen to our arguments and manage differences professionally. I thank him for that. I'm sure he will understand why Labor senators don't wish him too much luck as he resigns in the Senate to contest the state election next month. I think Senator Keneally put it well: 'I don't wish you luck, but I wish you well.' I reprise her words on that and I also, on behalf of opposition senators, thank Senator Leyonhjelm for his service to this place.
Good. He's called himself that. I just want to say to Wacka: I really appreciated the time that you drove five hours to come to Byron Bay to support a sharks inquiry that I was chairing. I know you were fundamentally opposed to my view on protecting great white sharks and other shark species, but you drove five hours just to give me a quorum for my hearing, which I really appreciated. What I really like about Wacka is that, although he is pretty good at politics, he often put politics aside and focused on the issues. I think that's a pretty rare thing to do in this place.
I gave an interview to The Sydney Morning Herald earlier this week and I explained how I first met Wacka. He'd called my office—this is when I'd just started as a senator, in 2012, and I didn't really know who he was—and one of my staff said, 'This Nationals bloke has called you and he wants you to give him a call back.' But I never got around to it. He bailed me up in the corridor and said: 'I hear you used to work in the banks and that you understand financial markets. I'd really like you to come onto the economics committee. We've got this inquiry coming up into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. We're going to be taking on a lot of stuff and I think you'd be a really good addition to the team.' At the time, I had other priorities. I was new and I was learning the ropes. But it's pretty rare for someone to actually want to bring someone onto their committee, or into their political fight in this place, if that person might take some of the shine away from them or, knowing how politics is, if it's not necessarily in their political interests. But Wacka was always, all the way through, focused on getting an outcome and supporting the public and the victims of financial crime.
So I did join that committee; I did participate in it. I can't say Senator Mark Bishop was as pleased about me being on the committee as Senator Williams was. Nevertheless, history has shown that it was an extremely important Senate inquiry. It was meant be an inquiry into the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. It ended up being into the Commonwealth Bank, because of the scandal and because the whistleblower Jeff Morris came forward, and we made some recommendations, including recommendations for a royal commission. I believe very strongly, from my campaign since then, that that's where it could have ended—in history. It could have ended as a pit stop by the side of the road. Certainly Wacka would be completely honest in saying that his party, his mob, weren't at all interested in a royal commission, and I don't think that changed until very recently. And at the time, I think the story and the evidence shows, Labor were not interested in a royal commission either. In fact, it took nearly two years from that point to get Mr Shorten to sign up to a royal commission.
The role I played in working with Senator Williams was that he would always talk to me about things that were going on, he would always have an open door, and I'd always go to him for advice. And all the way through, although he knew his party was opposed to a royal commission, he never gave up. I respect the fact that Senator Williams crossed the floor when the Greens put up a motion in this chamber for a royal commission into banks and financial services. The Greens were sitting on their own over here with Senator Williams. We were the first ones to call for it, and he had the courage of his convictions to cross the floor.
Just to wrap up, I'll say that seeing Senator Williams here tonight for his final speech and seeing the chamber united was a pretty special moment for me. There have been only a couple of those since I've been here, and I think one of those special moments was tonight. That was very much the theme of his talk—that we actually do often work together. People don't see it. They don't always recognise it.
Lastly, David, as I said to you earlier, I think I've been very privileged to be here as a senator during an extraordinary time in history for my party—that is, my party has been in the balance of power in the Senate for the six years that I've been here. That means we've been able to get up a number of Senate inquiries into things we deeply believe in and are deeply passionate about. We've been able to go out there, collect evidence and go around the country. You've always supported the notion that the Senate's job is to inquire into matters, even if you often disagreed with what we were inquiring into. I remember inquiries like the joint strike fighter and others where you consistently voted with the Greens on that principle. Many times your vote was critical to us getting our inquiries up, so I thank you for that.
Could I also add my comments to the things that have been said about Senator Williams and Senator Leyonhjelm. I came into the parliament at the same time as Wacka—and, for the sake of Hansard, whenever I say 'Wacka', you can insert 'Senator Williams'. Wacka was immediately someone who grabbed your attention. We were getting this school about how the Senate came about and how the Senate was there to represent the states, and I found it a bit bewildering that Senator Williams immediately started arguing for the abolition of the states—after being elected as a senator for New South Wales! He went into this spiel about the northern new state and about how New England should've been a state on its own. I know that's a long-standing issue up in New England, and they actually have developed a crest, which is based on the Scottish lion rampant. I did go up to New England many times. I was a union official based in Muswellbrook and I went to Inverell, Narrabri, Wee Waa and all the way up to Tenterfield, so I've been up to Inverell on a number of occasions. I look around tonight and I think everyone who lives in Inverell is here tonight to pay respect to Senator Williams.
He and I have had some roaring arguments and debates in this place. I'm a bit known for having a go at the National Party now and again. But, every time I did, Wacka would be on his feet straight after me, defending the National Party and attacking me. That's life here. But he and I always got on really, really well. I can't say that about too many on the other side. I've always been respectful and friendly to people on the other side, but I've been very friendly with Wacka. We were on the economics committee at the same time and we went through some of the things that Wacka spoke about.
The other thing about Wacka is that he really, really loves Nancy and he really looks after Nancy. It's not often that you find your partner severely injured, but you never get Wacka Williams offside. He began a campaign to limit the speed of mobility scooters because Nancy had been badly injured. It just shows the respect that Wacka has and the love that he has for his wife and family. I think that says everything about him. Again, I echo what Senator Cormann said, he was dogged, he was decent and he was absolutely determined to follow his conscience and the issues that were important to him.
He has got terrific staff. Greg Kachel has been around here for as long as I've been here. We all owe so much to our staff, and Wacka took time to deal with that today.
But, Wacka, you were in the wrong party. I'm a socialist. Wacka is an agrarian socialist. That's the reality. He's a great guy. I don't agree with a lot of his politics, but we've been good friends in the time we've been here.
As for Senator Leyonhjelm, we've had our moments in this chamber, as you've had with most people—I'm not special in that—but, as I said to you this evening, at least many people know that you were a senator and know that you were here. You've certainly made a mark since you've been here: some good, some not so good and some bloody awful, in my view, but that's how you are and that's what you've done. For someone who doesn't believe in government, you've got this obsession about becoming a parliamentarian. That's another issue—you want to get your voice heard and you're in there and you've argued those points. You and I have had a number of discussions walking down the corridor, because your office is across from mine. We've had some friendly and some not so friendly discussions on the way down here but, again, I have always found you to be very upfront and someone who stands up for his values. I commend you for that. I hate your position on the ABCC—bad call!—but, as has been said, you've always been frank and forthright. You never were going to be the Messiah in here, and you have been at times a very naughty boy. People know you've been here and you've stood up for your principles. I wish you well in the future. I wish Wacka and his family well. Senator Leyonhjelm, I'm with others on the Labor side: I don't wish you success in your parliamentary career in New South Wales, but I do wish you and your family well. You've certainly made your mark when you've been here. I'd like to add my comments to that which has been said earlier. Two particularly special people have been here. Let's see what the future holds. I hope it's not another parliamentary position for you, Senator Leyonhjelm.
I'm absolutely delighted to rise today to say a few words today about Senator John Williams the Nationals senator for New South Wales, better known, of course, as 'Wacka'. When you're standing in this place at these times it's always a bit of a tears and beers moment. We're having a bit of a celebration about what Wacka Williams, in this case, has achieved, but we're always a bit sad to see them go.
We've just heard a valedictory from a quintessential Australian. He could've been regaling his mates in the pub about what had happened. That's his style, that's what he sounded like and that's what he has always been. I recall his maiden speech, when he described the mob he was from and his home town of Jamestown, where he grew up, and that community. He said they were the salt of the earth. Of course! We need no better description than to have listened today and to have worked with someone who was quintessentially Australian and absolutely the salt of the bloody earth, as he would tell you.
Most people who have experienced Wacka know that he brings a particular element, that element of his life experience—growing up in Jamestown, shifting to Inverell, going into business with his brother, going through all of that angst about losing the family farm and all of that. Much of that he's brought to this place: that rich experience of being everything from a penciller at the races to being a truck driver and a shearer, to knowing how to set a rabbit trap, he tells me, with all his fingers still there. He's just a fantastic guy with lots of what I consider to be real-life experience, but I guess in the context of the real world that's just different life experience. I think we should be so grateful he brought that to this place. The other element he would see in his pub as an element of value and respect is hard work. Now Wacka worked hard. He got here earlier; he went home later; if there was a job to done, he went and did it. As we've heard from the Greens, he didn't have to, but he got in the car and drove five hours to give them a quorum. That was Wacka. He was the bloke who brought the value of hard work to this place.
Knowing Wacka, I know that there are few of us who would have had the same experiences—we all bring different experiences—but he's had some pretty tough times. He'd had some very hard hardships. He'd had a lot of financial hardships and, more recently, he's had some issues with his health. People often wonder how he would have got through that and maintained this humorous good nature about all of those sorts of matters. He's brought so much wealth of knowledge with him: his knowledge as a shearer; his knowledge of agriculture; his knowledge of the banking system, which was pretty focused before he came here. So he's come from some very humble beginnings in the rural mid-north of South Australia, all the way to now calling Inverell, New South Wales, home.
His life experience is something that we truly value in the National Party, because those values I've just been talking about—I'm not pretending to own those values, but they are the values of the National Party: hard work; being a reflection of the people you come from. You look like the people who vote from you, you think like the people who vote for you and you champion the people who have put you here. Certainly, that is quintessentially Wacka. He comes from a place where they think like him, talk like him. That's why in regional and rural Australia, in regional and rural New South Wales particularly, he's been able to engage so well with his constituency. And, because he can engage so well, that's why he has become a complete champion for regional and rural Australia.
There's a great generosity in Wacka. He's a very, very generous individual. We've heard how he so humbly says he was very pleased to help people into a scholarship so that they could become dentists. If they come from the country, they're likely to come back to the country and be dentists. I think it was some $50,000 he put away. It was quite a remarkable contribution which, in effect, came out of his own pocket.
Now I know that Wacka's constituents will consider his retirement a bit of a loss for them. His consistent fighting spirit for regional New South Wales and farmers across the country surely will be missed. But I think he's left a legacy and a new benchmark. Whoever follows Wacka in here as a senator for New South Wales, there is a new benchmark of the values that Wacka has brought to this place: you'd better be hardworking, you'd better be a champion and you'd better know what you're talking about. I think in this building, he has certainly left his mark.
I know that Wacka, as a long-time National whip in the Senate, had his job cut out for him. We're a very small team; a bit of a force to be reckoned with. We don't have any rules about obeying any particular rules; you can all pretty much do what you like. We are self-disciplined. We tend to come to a core. We make sure we don't leave our mates out in the cold. Wacka did an absolutely tremendous job as whip, and could I just acknowledge the fantastic staff that he's had for such a long time. We've all enjoyed working with them, certainly when he was whip and keeping us all in line. I think they've done a great job.
I particularly have always enjoyed Wacka's fair dinkum turn of phrase. I think it's something both Wacka and I share, which has landed us both in a bit of hot water on many occasions. As he reflected in his valedictory speech, someone's got to keep the refinement of the British language in hand. So, Wacka, I'm absolutely confident that I speak for everyone on both sides of the chamber when I say that we've always very much admired your down-to-earth nature, your frankness with all of your colleagues and your courage to make your opinions known even when there was a bit of a personal cost. You know, I'm leaning on Wacka and he's saying, 'I know you may not like this, Nige, but this is what I'm going to do.' We've always very much admired that courage.
At these times you have to make difficult decisions. You have to stand up for the things you believe in and that your constituents in that part of Australia, in that sector, believe in. And sometimes, I acknowledge, it's a bit of a lonely place to be. Certainly sitting on the other side of the Greens when you're a coalition member is a pretty lonely place to be, but you found that that was essential, and we all respect you very much for those decisions.
I don't think there's another person in this place who fought harder for justice to be brought to the banking and financial industry. There's no doubt about it. There were Wacka's early days in the toing and froing with the banks, with his own farm, and the frustration that he felt and he knew that so many other people felt—that you couldn't do anything about it because they were big; they were huge. They were bigger than you, they had better lawyers, they had better advisers, they were more believable and there were people who had a vested interest. So Wacka felt that he was really the tiny person in that argument. It may not have been part of his motivation but his coming here, because he knew the heartache and devastation that came from being unfairly treated by financial institutions, led to one of the greatest pursuits of his career—his quest to uncover the malpractices of the financial industry.
When Wacka arrived, well before anyone was really focused on this issue, I know he was busy spending countless hours with constituents, particularly farmers who sought his advice on how to deal with unfair treatment and difficulties with the big banks. I know that his genuine care and concern for the wellbeing of the farmers and their livelihoods is something that we can all learn from, because a growing reputation as a champion of farmers dealing with the banks ensured that he had a lot of people lining up at his electoral office. Wacka, to say that you've left a legacy would be an understatement. As a particular news publication so rightly described it when summarising your time in parliament, 'You don't have to be a minister to make a difference in Canberra.'
I should acknowledge Bozzie—Ron Boswell—and Fiona Nash. They were two great National Party senators. Bozzie used to always lecture me about focusing on more than one thing, and certainly Wacka took his advice. He really focused on things. He knew every in and out, he ran every campaign and he really ensured that people understood what was up and down in that area.
Lastly, Wacka, thanks so much for being a good mate and contributing to the National Party. Good luck on completing your retirement bucket list. I'm sure this is not the last we hear from you, and I'm sure it's not going to be the last you hear from me, mate.
Whilst I'm on my feet, I'd also like to acknowledge the time that Senator Leyonhjelm—David—has spent in this place. He's a very unique creature It is part of his personality, not his politics, that, from the moment he took his seat in 2014, he's made me completely cringe a number of times. How can you have this fundamentalism of complete honesty and courage every day? He was quite happy to sit on his own. He had absolutely no friends. Mate, I have to say that we all got used to that. You have very strong and courageous views—you're self-titled as a classic liberal. I can remember you in your maiden speech declaring your quest to convince Australians that governments should forego their overgoverning, overtaxing and overriding ways, and you summed it up by stating that governments should be seeking protection of life, liberty and private property. So, in short, you strongly believe that private citizens, as you tell me, should be left alone. You have a humble family background, hailing from Victoria; an impressive portfolio and tertiary qualifications. You're a vet, you're a lawyer—the list goes on and on. I think, with all of that experience, you certainly can't be accused of making unqualified commentary in this place, mate.
I know that you've worn a number of political hats and you've sought identity through a number of parties. Consistently your views and beliefs regarding the economy, social issues, reducing government, private property, the matter of firearms, free trade and many other areas have become your own. With clearly articulated and developed policy ideas, you have come here with a great deal of knowledge. So whilst many in the chamber don't agree with you on a number of issues, I think we'd all say that we would agree about your huge commitment and strength to sticking to your guns, mate—no pun intended—and not compromising on your views. You've dealt with it all honestly and in a straightforward way. Whilst I mightn't agree with you on most things, I have to say, I've always respected your capacity to remain steadfast in your beliefs.
I have a great deal of common ground with Senator Leyonhjelm. That's probably well known in this place. He's a fellow shooter and a supporter of the rights of hunters and shooters, so it's tremendous to be able to have a companion on the crossbench. When you're voting for us, we can go over and actually discuss the various aspects of the differences between a one-in-12-inch twist and a one-in-11-inch twist when you're using 46 grains of 2208 in a 308 barrel at 100 metres. Other people aren't really interested in those conversations! It's fascinating to us though, mate, and I'll certainly miss those conversations.
On behalf of myself and others in the National Party, we wish you all the best, mate. I really do. I've no doubt you'll continue to be a formidable force in the world of politics. The fact we've got a shooter and hunter on the side of people continuing in politics is a fantastic thing, so keep up the good work in that. I know that you'll be a significant force, not only in New South Wales but beyond that. Thanks so much for contributing to the diversity of viewpoints and challenging us to think outside the square. I'm really looking forward to having some more time to accompany you in the annoyance of wildlife.
I want to make a few comments in relation to Senator John Williams. It's already been very well articulated here in the contributions this evening, in relation to the background of Wacka, being a shearer, a truck driver, a farmer and a small business owner. Being elected in 2007, I think he has brought something very unique to this chamber.
I can only speak for myself in the way that I've had dealings with him as my deputy chair on the scrutiny of bills committee. But something that Senator Williams said in his first speech was, 'I just want to be me.' I think that, after 11 years in this place, it's very evident that that's who he was. I think that his contribution to the financial sector in this country, which has been noted in many of the contributions from other people, and, in particular, his strident determination to bring about a banking royal commission, standing out on that side of the chamber for something that he believed in, has been well noted. His driving force was in calling it out for what it was from his background in dealing with banks to understanding the issues that were confronting too many Australians in the way they were being treated by the large banks. I commend him for his contribution there.
I think the thing that has really stood out about Wacka in this place is the amount of respect that he's had from this side of the chamber and the friends that he's made from this side of the chamber. I think it's a good story to tell, so that the people listening to this broadcast will understand that, although we come in here and we have some very strident debates—we articulate our views and we can have very different views—there are times when we have agreements across the chamber and we do that in a respectful way and we do work together on our committees. Those are where we get to know each other in a different forum than the combative nature of what the Senate chamber is only too often.
Can I say, too, that when he's been in this place, and since he's been here, we've had some contentious issues to deal with. I have to pay respect to Senator Williams for his conviction and for living by the values of his Christian beliefs. I appreciate the respect that he has at times given to me personally in relation to sharing his views in those debates, and then there have been times when we haven't. I thank him for his contribution. He's also going to be remembered for his integrity and his courage. I think that, as a senator leaving this place after 11 years, it's a pretty good thing to go away knowing that you have the respect of people around this chamber and you're respected for your courage and your integrity.
In terms of his role as deputy chair on the Scrutiny of Bills Committee, we worked together very closely. But we were having issues on that committee with government ministers not responding as quickly as the committee would have liked. It was Wacka who took it upon himself to make contact with the offices of those ministers who had been tardy in responding to our requests for further information on legislation. At times, there was legislation that was about to be debated in the Senate chamber and we wanted to ensure that senators had as much information as possible. So Wacka took it upon himself to follow up. I have no doubt there were times when some of those ministers would not have appreciated his phone call or his knock on their door, but he did that. I have to tell you that the turnaround was remarkable. So I thank him very much. I would also have to say that I'm sure that there have been times when he has been more popular on this side of the chamber than in fact he has been with some of his ministerial colleagues.
Again, I think it was so evident in what Senator Cameron said in his contribution about the calibre of the man that John is and what he has upheld during his time here in the chamber. His devotion to his wife and his family has been commented on. I just want to wish them both the very best in the next chapter of their lives together. I know that he's going to be missed by not only me but many on this side, particularly those of us who have worked with him on committees and also in estimates.
Senator John 'Wacka' Williams, thank you for your contribution. I only hope that when I have the opportunity to choose my time of leaving that I will have some similar comments made in relation to my contribution in this place. Thank you very much for the way you've always conducted yourself and all the very best for your future.
I just wanted to, again, ever so briefly associate myself with the fine words that have been said about my colleagues Senator Williams and Senator Leyonhjelm. Both are exceptional men, as we've heard this afternoon, but those of us who've been here for a while with them knew that without having to hear it today. The number of people that Wacka had here is testament to the very high regard he is held in his community. The two of them are perhaps two of the most—apart from you and me, Mr Acting Deputy President Marshall!—genuine members of parliament that I've ever had the pleasure to be associated with. Both are very true to their causes. Both have a commitment. I just want to put on record, as I've done privately and will do privately, my best wishes to both of them and my regards to their respective spouses. I wish them both all the very best in the future.
I, too, rise to associate with the comments that have been made in relation to both Senator Williams and Senator Leyonhjelm. I also take the opportunity to acknowledge the presence of Senator Fiona Nash, who was in the chamber earlier. We didn't get the opportunity to farewell Fi like we would have liked to. I place on record my acknowledgment of and my thanks for her service as a senator for New South Wales, as a minister and as a deputy leader. I'm sure that whatever Fi is doing now, particularly in the academic world, she's continuing to make a great contribution.
Today we farewell two senators from New South Wales. As a senator from New South Wales, I thank them on behalf of those many people who both Wacka and David have assisted. They have served the people of New South Wales very well. They have served the people of New South Wales to the best of their ability and, as such, New South Wales has been very well served by its two senators.
To Wacka first: he will be missed, and I've told him this. Everyone has talked about Wacka. He is the epitome of the 'great bloke'—a thoroughly decent person, with a sense of family values and beliefs. They are all the things that we share. We share many, many things together. Our values and beliefs are very similar.
Wacka has a great sense of humour. This was especially clear to me when someone can name their chooks 'Connie' and 'Michaelia'. There is a story to Wacka naming them. He told me that his previous chooks had been named after very well-known women in the National Party, and so he proceeded to come in one day and say, 'Nancy has bought these two new chooks, and we've called them Michaelia and Connie.' I really didn't know how to take this. Of course, I was thrilled to have this chook named after me. So we proceeded for a number of years to get a frequent report on these two chooks. I was assured by Wacka that Connie laid more eggs than Michaelia. Michaelia got a little bit scratchy at times. I also had the benefit of Wacka coming down to Canberra every so often and bringing eggs that Connie had laid. Michaelia and I were very honoured to have these chooks named after us.
Wacka and I were able to do really good work together, especially on our inquiry into liquidators. As a former solicitor with the Australian Government Solicitor's office, I had worked extensively in the insolvency area. We were able to work very, very effectively, particularly in pursuing some of the very dodgy liquidators that we had in New South Wales. There was one in particular whom I had had dealings with when I was a government solicitor, and I must say that it was with great pleasure that Wacka and I finally extracted a degree of retribution for some of his activities.
At one stage in 2009, I did a wool report. I looked at the wool industry in Australia, particularly in relation to why we sell a lot of our good wool to the Italians and then many of us buy beautiful Italian clothes in return. I told Wacka that I was doing this report on the wool industry, and Wacka said, 'Connie, I'll take you shearing so you can see what it's really like.' I thought, 'Great, this is terrific,' and so off I went to Inverell. We went out to a shearing shed out at Inverell and some fellow showed me how to shear a sheep. What was really great about that was watching Wacka—notwithstanding all the other things he had done in the interim—shear with the same degree of prowess that he had in his earlier years and him teaching me the finer points of shearing.
I conclude by wishing Wacka and Nancy all the very, very best. A few years ago, I was travelling up north, having travelled through Inverell, and I rang him up at about seven o'clock one morning. I said, 'I'm about to drive through Inverell,' and so I was promptly welcomed into Wacka's home and shown around his beautiful property. I know that he and Nancy are looking forward to spending really good time together. As Wacka faces the next challenge in his life with Parkinson's, I am sure that, as a consequence of what he has done in his life, he will now become a very good advocate for Parkinson's. I'm sure that he will enjoy his retirement with his wonderful family and Nancy, in particular.
I now turn to David Leyonhjelm. It's been an absolute pleasure to know and to work with David. I enjoyed our many discussions, especially, of course, because we're both cat lovers. David had four cats and I only have one, so I did benefit from some veterinary advice as well along the way. David now has three cats, and I'm sure they'll be happy to welcome him home—along with his wife, of course!
One thing about David is that he always stuck to his principles. He stood for what he believed in. In this place, politicians come and go, but principles are enduring. Therefore, standing by what you value and what you believe in is very important. In the end, in the things we do, not everybody agrees with us. But if you're prepared and you stand by your principles, then people respect you more when you're prepared to stand. As Senator Scullion said, often David stood and was alone in the point of view that he put, but he was proud to do so because he was standing by his principles.
I am sure that he will continue in his quest against the nanny state. I'm sure that he will find targets—many targets—in New South Wales to address his issues with now. I wish him well. I hope he won't be too successful! I'm sure that he will continue to make a contribution to public life, whatever he does.
Wacka: I think that what we've seen tonight is that we will all miss you. You're a true boy from the bush and a true National.
He referenced in his valedictory speech two dogs—Pistol and Boo. That reminded me of a poem by Robbie Burns that reminds me of Wacka. It's really where we hear the phrase, 'a scholar and a gentleman'. For me, Wacka is a scholar and a gentleman. He pushed against stereotypes, whilst also pretending to be one, I think, at times.
Wacka, in his maiden speech, referenced the scholarship he got to university, but that he only lasted three months and away he went. He's had an amazing life of driving trucks and a life on the land—as a shearer et cetera. As Nigel said, it hasn't always been easy. But the fact that John Williams from Jamestown got a scholarship to university back then points to the fact that he has a pretty good mind on him. For me, in the conversations we've had in this place, his savant-like capacity to remember facts and figures and to perform calculations at any time of day or night on the most obscure bits of information was always surprising.
I think he is also a gentleman, and we've heard a lot of references to that in the comments in the chamber today. He's respectful, as a gentleman should be. He respects both sides of politics, he respects the work of the Senate and its committees. He respects people. He respects the chair, and we see his longstanding efforts to see standing orders changed so that the President of the Senate would have the ability to cast out those senators who were not respectful in the chamber. And he's very respectful in the chamber. I remember often—particularly as a new senator—chatting with another colleague and being reminded by my trusty whip, Wacka Williams, that I needed to be much more respectful. Polite and respectful.
He's also courageous, as a gentleman should be. He did what was right, not expedient, always. For us in the Nationals, particularly when in government, he also reminded us often why we were here and who we were here to serve, and he really brought the heart into our party room. He never complained. He was always positive. He often expressed anger and frustration, I think, in equal measures and at both sides, on behalf of those people who sent him and us in our party to parliament—regional Australians. He always was a fighter. He fought for a fair go. He was incredibly courageous.
I think my National Party colleagues, and particularly you, Senator O'Sullivan, would agree with me on this: without doubt, of the 16 Senate whips our party's held in a century, Wacka is undoubtedly the best and the most popular. That is why he got the job more than once; he was just so good at it. He made sure we were on time, supporting our team in the chamber. He was incredibly helpful to new senators, helping us learn the ropes. One of the things he instituted as whip was compulsory fun for the Nationals. We had this regular compulsory afternoon tea straight after question time on a Wednesday. When Bozzie was around we had lamingtons, et cetera. I arrived and there was hummus, with Senator Nash there was fruit and with Senator O'Sullivan there were saveloys. We had an afternoon tea that became quite a spread. Wacka always made sure we felt like a family and that we found some time in this incredibly busy job to do something very regular and real and to connect on a very human level. He was also very good with jokes. A personal favourite was, 'Take a good look around'. I'll leave that for him to ponder on. He was always ready to make us laugh.
He always supported new senators. I remember making my maiden speech on the other side a few years ago. Like he did tonight, I got quite emotional when speaking about the contribution our families make to getting us here and to supporting us in our work here. He was sitting in front of me. He clenched his teeth and, out of the side of his mouth, he said to me on that night, 'Grit your teeth, stay strong.' I appreciated that tonight he realised it's not that easy. His love for Nancy knows no bounds, and I know they're going to have a fantastic life post-politics. Also through his office of the whip, he was incredibly supportive of new staff. I'd like to pay homage to Deb, Gary and, particularly, Greg, who made any new staff member welcome and showed them the ropes. No question was too hard or a waste of time.
As many people have talked about, Wacka was a great champion for the underdog—for those who are powerless in our society and who the big end of town have mistreated. I won't go into his work there. He also stood up for law-abiding firearm owners. We crossed the floor together on various issues over the years on that particular issue. He pushed for beef producers to have greater rights. He supported with me the inquiry into competition in the beef industry that actually saw a lot of poor behaviour, particularly by large players in the beef industry, that had a severe impact on our producers in getting a fair return for their product. He was quite a champion in that area. In competition law more generally, he always fought for changes to the Trade Practices Act, et cetera. He really fought for the underdog, and I think that is just a testament to his life experience and his tenacity.
I know you can't wait to spend the rest of your life with Nancy. You are a truly authentic man in what increasingly is sometimes a very false environment. That's why we all delight in Wacka's turn of phrase and his capacity to say what he thinks, mean what he says and do what he says he's going to do. They're rare and traditional values that I think are getting harder and harder to find in modern life. Thank you, country boy. You are the real deal.
I also want to make some brief comments on Senator Leyonhjelm. As chair and founder of the Parliamentary Friends of Shooting, Senator Leyonhjelm has been a very strong advocate for law-abiding firearm owners in this country. I've appreciated both his support in the chamber and his efforts outside, and also his participation in our regular events. I extend to any senators or MPs who want to have a crack, quite literally, an invitation to our regular events throughout the year. You can come and try your hand in a safe and fun environment.
Senator Leyonhjelm's dry sense of humour and his ability to look serious whilst being sarcastic will, I think, be very much missed. Senator Cameron, I think you raised a good point about the inherent contradiction of being a libertarian and up for small government whilst seeking a political career. I think that's not lost on those of us who hold similar values. Go well, Senator Leyonhjelm. Keep punching on, but not at the expense of the Nats.
Before my time in the Senate, I was in the House of Representatives, and I've got to say that I've had more pleasure being in this chamber than I had when I was in the House of Reps. Having colleagues and associates like Wacka Williams and David Leyonhjelm, who I've worked with for the past 2½ years, has made it more pleasant for me this time around. We may not be on the same page with politics—I think a lot of the time with Wacka Williams we were, but we didn't always agree with David Leyonhjelm's civil libertarian views on taxes—I've got to reiterate the words that were just said by Senator McKenzie: Wacka Williams is a man of the earth. He's the salt of the Australian earth, someone I see as the iconic Aussie bloke out there who loves the land, loves the people on the land and will fight for them. I don't see it in a lot of other people here because of the disconnect between the city and the land, and I think the chamber's going sadly miss having Wacka here to stand up for the farming families and the people of this nation. He's a man who's out there getting his hands dirty. He knows what it's like.
What Wacka has done has been absolutely wonderful. Like I said, I've only known and worked with him for the last 2½ years, but I've got to give him credit for what he's done with the banking inquiry. Wacka was the deputy chair of the Senate inquiry into rural lending to primary industries, which One Nation chaired. He was the backbone behind Malcolm Roberts in that inquiry. The information they gathered from it was very informative and has helped a lot of farming people. With Wacka you could have a joke, or he'd call across the chamber, and it wouldn't matter. It might have been a serious issue, but he could bring a smile to everyone's lips across the chamber with his sense of humour. That's going to be dearly missed. It's been an honour to work with Wacka.
With David Leyonhjelm, even today there was a motion that I put up and he said, 'Sorry, darling, I can't support you on this one.' Oh shock horror! The feminists out there are probably listening to this and saying, 'How dare you put up with that!' Forget it. Get over it. I'm not interested. I'm not offended; I take it as a compliment. That is David Leyonhjelm: still a gentleman, as Wacka is. People have become too precious in this world. You can't say or do anything without someone out there being offended by it.
David has been very, very helpful to me, because I've never been in the Senate before and it is different to the House of Reps. I've got to say that having him sitting next to me in the chamber over the period of the last 2½ years has been very helpful to me. He's sometimes guided me in how the chamber works and different things that happen here. I'm going to miss David. I think he's got a lot to offer. He's very passionate about his firearms, as I am, so on some of those issues, David, I think I might take up your cause. We'll have a talk before you finish and make sure that, if it's not settled, the challenge is taken up for the firearm owners in this country. I will carry on with that for you.
I do wish him all the best in the New South Wales state election, although I am standing with my candidates in New South Wales. He's taken that challenge on in his state, and, in all sincerity, I do wish him all the best. He does have a lot to offer. If anything, it's about honesty and integrity, and that's what we need on the floor of parliament. To David: all the best in the New South Wales election.
It's been a pleasure to have worked with both Wacka Williams and David Leyonhjelm. And I say these comments today also on behalf of my colleague Senator Georgiou.
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.
It's patently clear that all the people who have made a contribution here today about Senator Williams have not had to sit beside him for nearly four years, co-share an office with him or, like Senator Canavan, go and eat at the same Thai restaurant three nights a week with him! As an end to that story, and I think this is a measure of Senator Williams, that restaurant did close, and so instead of him eating at Sylvie's, Sylvie started to come and eat at Wacka's. Her and her family visited Wacka up on the farm, as did most people, and had the experience up there. I think they were up there for one Christmas.
A couple of times today, as I've been listening to these wonderful contributions, I've felt like it feels when you're at a funeral and you're listening to the eulogies and you've actually got to look down at the pamphlet to see that you're at the right event—you have to check the photo! That's because it hasn't been some of my experiences where Wacka's concerned, having sat beside him. I've had to endure weather reports from up on the farm about every 15 minutes as if somehow the weather's going to change—the anticipation of rain or a change in temperature. I've had to endure every photograph ever taken by Wacka, and there are thousands of them, of the progress of the sorghum, the hay or the mung beans that he's planted. I heard Senator Fierravanti-Wells talk about the cats. I've seen all the cats, I've seen the dogs and I know why they were named. I've had to endure this for four years.
I don't have a lot of time, but can I just say that I think everyone here recognises his strengths. I remember being at a public hearing in Townsville where there were 300 or 400 sugar farmers who were attending the hearing. We had a references inquiry, chaired by Senator Sterle, into the marketing arrangements around sugar, and I can remember Wacka opening with a question, saying, 'When I was a pig farmer,' and you could actually feel this room made up of farmers come with him. There was immediately this affinity. They'd straightened up to listen to what this fella had to say, because they knew for sure that he knew them.
Then we had a rally here in Canberra about the setting of rates for transport workers, and Wacka was sent in to prime the crowd before the Prime Minister arrived to speak. Wacka opened with 'when I was a truck driver'. Then, on another occasion, he was a shearer. Over those five or six years I spent with him, Wacka had a lot more occupations than he confessed to in his speech today. But each of them cleverly drew on the affinity of an audience, because Wacka knew the value of trust. That's how Wacka operated. He operated his friendships on the value of trust, he operated in this chamber on the value of trust and he operated in all the inquiries that he participated in, he particularised today, on a question of trust. He is the sort of guy that people very quickly come to trust.
What I do know is that, of all the things that are important to John Williams—and he spoke about many of them today—his love for his family and his agrarian lifestyle are way up there at the top of the list. If there's anything anyone wants to know about Nancy, what she is thinking, what she has said, what she has bought or what she has done on the farm, just come and see me after this, because I got Nancy from daylight to dark, right here, in this spot, next to Wacka. His love for Nancy is enormous. Of course, for those who are close would know that Nancy got quite badly injured when one of those scooter things with a flag, which was being driven along the footpath, bowled Nancy over, outside of her newspaper office. So, of course, Wacka immediately launched an inquiry into these mobile scooters. I thought at the time this would be a complete waste of time and life, but in fact it turned out to be quite an important inquiry. I didn't realise how many people in the country had been exposed to that situation. That's the nature of Wacka. When he sees a problem, he'll go after it, endeavouring to try and create a solution.
He is very much like Senator Boswell in another way. I remember when Boswell rang me one day and said, 'You've got to stop the importation of ginger from Fiji.' I said, 'Why, Ron? ' He said, 'Because they've detected nematodes in it.' I said to him, 'What's a nematode, Ron?' because I didn't know what it was. He said: 'I don't know, but it can't be good. You've got to stop the ginger coming in.' In some ways, Senator Williams has that really primal, gut feeling about things that affect people and what the solutions need to be. He will tell you himself that he's not big on the detail of how to get from here to there. He relies on his relationships with people in this place and the staff, particularly those who support the committee process. He knows where you need to be, and he knows where the starting point is. In all the inquiries that I shared with him, he had a very disarming way in leading the witnesses and breaking down what they had to say into some plain English statements, which were always captured in the reports and which underpinned the principles of the recommendations.
I've had quite literally thousands of hours sitting here talking with Wacka, as you do with your bench partners in this place. His conversations, apart from being dominated by the weather and the sorghum almum crop which he has just put in and which has come up one centimetre in the last hour and a half, were about his boys, his grandchildren, his wife, his livestock and his pets. They were about the people who had been affected by issues which he had taken up, and they were about his staff. He valued those relationships. They were about the people in here. He was right to say that he had made some very strong friendships across the chamber. I suspect that, with really one or two remote exceptions, Wacka would be regarded very, very favourably by everyone in the chamber. Sadly, I'm not going to be able to make that expression when my time comes to leave—and many of us won't—but it's certainly true of John Williams. Indeed, that's the experience that we have in our party room. He has a very unifying effect. Sometimes when some stresses have occurred, he was like Senator Boswell and Warren Truss before him. He was a unifying force and brought those relationships back together.
So he'll be remembered fondly by many of us. He'll be missed by many. I'm not sure that we're going to see personalities like his in the future. We've been watching some trends over the last couple of decades on how people make their way to this place, and, as Warren Truss said, he's not sure that someone who didn't finish grade 7 will make it to here. I'm not sure that some burned out, old busted-arse shearer who had done a bit of truck driving and had gone bankrupt would make their way here as frequently in the future as we might have seen in the past. I suspect, I'm at time, Mr Acting Deputy President, so I thank the chamber for the opportunity to reflect on John.