Wednesday, 4 December 2019
A month or so ago I turned 50 and my mother gave me my secondary school reports. To be frank, reading them only highlighted just how incredible it is that I am actually a senator at all. The teachers' comments were basically code for 'Your son is an opinionated pain in the backside.' Not much has changed, some might think. It was clear that I was a rebel of sorts, albeit I didn't have much of a cause at the time. That changed, of course, in the mid-1980s, when one of my teachers invited a few of us to attend our first ever political fundraiser. The real drawcard on the flier was a fully stocked fridge included as part of the admission price. 'Cool!' I thought. At 16, a political fundraiser and all the beer you can drink—what more can you ask for? So we paid our money and we turned up, only to find out that Fully Stocked Fridge was actually the name of a band, and the beers were frightfully expensive. It was only after that that I realised it was a fundraiser for the Socialist Alliance. I discovered my cause: the falsehoods of socialism. They were on full view. I remember it to this day.
Don't worry, this is not going to be another speech about the failures of socialism or a lecture on climate change, Marxism or the evil of higher taxes. You shall be spared another sermon on the institutional failings of government and why we need to feed the freedom machine. You've heard my comments on these too many times before, and some of you could probably repeat them verbatim. Instead, tonight I would like to reflect on what has been the experience of a lifetime.
When I first came into this place, in May 2006, I joined three great political friends. Nick Minchin was and continues to be a generous mentor. He is here with us today. Nick taught me the art of how to get things done in this place. He taught me when to push hard and when to let go. Actually, that's not true; I picked up the pushing hard bit, but the letting go might need a bit more tutelage, Nick!
Another is of course Alan Ferguson, a former Senate President. Alan piqued my interest in the workings of the Senate and he taught me that, no matter what level of responsibilities we may be entrusted with by others, our roles are equally important in this place. Alan and I agreed on nearly everything, but one day we found ourselves sitting on opposite sides of the chamber on a matter of conscience. His side won that ballot by a single vote. I have to tell you it was very confronting to be voting against my great friend, but it reaffirmed to me the importance of recognising that just because someone has a different point of view to you, it doesn't make them your enemy.
The third was Liberal Whip Jeannie Ferris. She was a bit of a legend. She was tough, she was very funny and she was the canniest of political operators. Jeannie unfortunately died of ovarian cancer whilst serving in office during my first year here. We had a day of condolences and many genuine and heartfelt contributions were made, and the Senate adjourned as a matter of respect. But the next day the machinery kicked into gear once again as if nothing had changed. That was my greatest and most important political lesson. That experience demonstrated to me that none of us here is indispensable. Sure, we hold important positions, but we are only temporary custodians of those positions, and it is critical for all of us to use our time here as well as we can and protect the institution that allows us to be here—our wonderful parliamentary democracy. That institution doesn't function without the contribution of so many. For those of us here, we see the toil and the sacrifice others make so that we can do our thing, and sometimes even appear good at what we do. So tonight I want to record my heartfelt thanks for the most amazing working experience that any Australian can aspire to.
In saying that, I've got to deal with the elephant in the room: on 4 May 2006 I was selected as a Liberal and on 4 December 2019 I leave as an Independent. Others will make up their own minds about the events that transpired, and I know not a single mind will be changed by anything that I say today or at any other time. However, suffice to say, I made choices that I thought were necessary and in the best interests of the country. Those choices were very difficult for me and for my family. They were painful for many friends and colleagues. It's fair to say I lost both during the events of 2017. But those that remain mean infinitely more to me than those that I lost. My thanks go to the men and women of the Liberal Party for the opportunity that they provided to me. For whatever it's worth, I've done my best to uphold the principles upon which that great party was built. And while our paths diverged, my traditional Liberal values never changed. It gives me great pleasure to see that those values are somewhat stronger in the party now than they have been in recent times. I hope that continues. I hope it continues to be the case, and I wish the Prime Minister and the coalition every continuing success.
But back to those who really matter and make our roles easier here. The Senate team, under the leadership of the Clerk, Richard Pye, do an amazing job. Their calmness and forbearance is the stuff of legend and they can always be relied on in a crisis. Of course, I've experienced one or two crises in my time here myself. I recall one such emergency, a dire time when I needed to iron a shirt. It was in my first weeks here. I asked the Black Rod if I could borrow an iron and an ironing board. As always, they obliged. They provided that iron and ironing board. I'm delighted to announce tonight that tomorrow morning, after more than 13 years of faithful service, I shall be returning both to the Black Rod.
Now, this chamber doesn't function without the tireless work of the attendants, who I think should receive a medal for the fortitude with which they perform their roles, and for putting up with us. I couldn't give them a medal, and instead I chose to distribute chocolate frogs every fortnight to help keep them sweet. Secretly—are you listening to this?—I was hoping they'd reciprocate and deliver a daily gin and tonic during question time, but so far no such luck! To John and the team, you are amazing. You have been incredible. You have made me feel so welcome. And just a little reminder: you've got one more day to make my dream come true.
There are many others here who make this place what it is. The security team have been fantastic, the Comcar drivers superb and Dom, Tony and the rest of the crew at Aussies have never failed to make every morning that little bit brighter. My thanks go to them all.
Outside of this place, there are so many that play an active role in helping us to do our jobs—some that are not acknowledged, but to me they're important. The team at the AFP have been just amazing during some rather challenging times. They were always there, willing and able to assist my family and my staff. I cannot thank them enough for the comfort and peace of mind they've provided over the years. Similarly, Ben and the team at MAPS in South Australia have been a delight to deal with, and they've always responded to our many queries with great patience.
May I also thank each and every one of you in this chamber who have served here past and present. It has been a pleasure to serve with you all. The political battles have been glorious in victory and in defeat. My gratitude extends even to my opponents, who, it may surprise some of you to know, are not all confined to the opposition side of the chamber! You have all forced me to develop the characteristics I admire most in others: resilience and accountability. Whilst on occasion you may have drawn a little bit of blood, overall it was your opposition that made me stronger and more determined.
To the many new friends that I've made in my time here, thank you. Not long after I started, a small group of us forged the strongest of bonds over our opposition to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. I suspect that the complete account of that bond will never be publicly known, but it withstood all the tests that were thrown at it by the vicissitudes of politics. We had an enormous amount of fun and I think we really did change the course of political history. It's also fair to say that some subsequent events and individual decisions strained the ties that bound us so tightly, but I will never ever forget the solidarity we showed to each other during an extraordinary time. It started as the G4—Mathias, Michaelia, myself and David Bushby. It later became the G8, when others joined us. Then, of course, we teamed up with a couple of Nats to make things really interesting.
There aren't many of that original group left in this place, but the friendships with Mitch and Fiona and David and Barnaby and Brett and Stephen endure today. To Eric and Connie and Scott who are still here, thank you for your friendship. There are, however, a couple of the original 'awesome foursome' who are will still here. To the sister I never had: Michaelia, thanks for being such a good sport about pretty much everything. I knew our friendship was unbreakable when you actually took me to a vegetarian restaurant and I forgave you for it! Mathias, you have been the coalition's Rock of Gibraltar—or whatever the Belgian equivalent is—my friend. You deserve all the success you've enjoyed in this place, and I wish you and your family every best wish for whatever the future holds.
There have been plenty of other mates on both sides of the chamber, the political divide, over my years here, but one is particularly notable because, to be frank, he was a centrepiece of one of my most successful political campaigns. It involves a friend of mine from the other side, and that's Senator Farrell. It's fair to say that Don Farrell has had an interrupted tenure in the Senate, and during his wilderness years, when others had forgotten him, I was the Senate keeper of the 'Farrell flame'. Nary a question time passed without me calling for his return and asking Labor, 'What would Don do? ' As a cheer squad of one, I have to tell you even I was surprised when he actually got back, but it has been good to have you back, Don. I only wish a few more on your side felt the same way I do!
Some people are going to say it's a bit strange that firm friendships are forged across the political divide, and it's enough to say that the nature of politics mattered less than the content of our character in those friendships and the respect that we've had for each other. For someone who doesn't like being lied to—I probably picked the wrong business—of all the people I grew close to in this place, never did any of them do me the discourtesy of not telling me the truth. They never scarified our friendship for political expediency even under very trying times. For that alone they have my respect.
After 30-odd years in this political game, I like to think I've got a pretty good eye for the political potential of others, and I have to say that I like what I see from so many here in the Senate. To them I say: be bold, be strong, be honest with your colleagues and be true to yourself and know that, when your time comes, like it has mine, you will only ever regret the things you chose not to say. If only I'd known that all those years ago, you can imagine the result.
To the troops of the fourth estate, where do I start? I naively thought that knowing so many of you from my days as a publican might prove for a smoother ride. After all, I came here privy to all the secrets you spilled after the truth of a pay packet invested in wine generated. Fat lot of good that did me though! In fact, I think that you knowing that I knew what you were really like simply seemed to focus your aim on me. Yes, you know who I'm talking about up there, but, rest assured you're not alone; there's a large contingent, there are plenty of your contemporaries in that same boat. It hasn't been a dull ride for either of us, if I might say, but, looking back through the files of media and political outrage that I seem to generate so readily, what caused such angst in years past has now become the subject of much more rational discussion. The rise of China, the impact of migration, the challenges to our social mores, climate change, the culture wars, Islam, fathers, mothers, marriage, border protection, burqas, Hillary Clinton and even Donald Trump—I could go on and on—all caused such a kerfuffle for offending those who have so little to worry about that they actually worry about very little. Yet, despite the clear differences in our world view, I've enjoyed the company and camaraderie of so many of those working in the gallery. They are overwhelmingly professional and committed to their craft.
That takes me to some of the people who mean the most to me outside of this place. My parents Jo and Leon have lived this amazing journey with me from day one. I actually think they experienced the highs and lows more vividly than I did, but they were always there to offer support or an extra pair of hands whenever it was needed. My brother Marcus, a second-generation publican, has always provided a safe haven from politics over a steak during our regular lunches. I have also been blessed with some incredibly loyal and true friends. The fact that they've never wavered during the turbulent times in my political career demonstrates how loyal they are. One poor chap keeps having his Wikipedia entry edited with the line, 'He's a lifelong friend of Cory Bernardi,' added to it. This is just a cruel attempt to stifle his corporate career. I know now that he's a true mate because he's stopped trying to delete it. To Gal and Carmen, Andrew and Liz, Bill and Imelda, Dusko and Di, Tom and Myriam, Simon and Ginia, Vaughn and Carolina, Terry and Donna, John and Di, Mel and Morry, Marg, Lyn and John, and Tony and so many more: thank you for being there during the good times and the bad times. I only hope that I have been as good to you as you have been to me.
Speaking of good, how good are my staff? My hiring policy was always to provide an opportunity to those who were looking for a break, and to cultivate talent. The first-time jobseeker, the career changer, the uni student, the later-in-life job entrant all were welcome if they could handle the three iron rules of engagement in the Bernardi office: No. 1, yes, it really is all about me; No. 2, I didn't say it was your fault, I just said I'm going to blame you; and, No. 3, which I'll have to listen to today, crying in front of me doesn't make anything better. Some survived and thrived in such an environment, but at least they all knew what they were getting into. Many have gone on to hold political office themselves or excel in their chosen careers post politics. Every single one of them has left a lasting impression on me, and I consider myself to be very fortunate to have shared the experience of working with them. But two special mentions must be made. The first is to Shari Savio, whose youthful ambition of working for the History Channel is still a work in progress. Instead, she's been making a little bit of political history with me for the past 10 years or more. Shari has always been an amazing person. Optimistic, happy, loyal and generous, she has this masterful way of softening whatever blow she has to deliver. It usually begins like this: 'I know what you're trying to do, Cory, but'. If only I'd listened more often—hey, Shari?—who knows what might have been. I'd like also to pay tribute to Chris Browne, who pretty much joined me in the very beginning in this place. It's a credit to him and his talent that he has now risen to a very senior position in the government. Chris, you're an outstanding individual and I wish you the very best.
Speaking about standing, my two amazing sons are with us today. Oscar and Harvey were only six and four when I started here. Now they are university students, and just looking at them makes me want to burst with pride. Boys, I know there have been some difficult times for you because of my work here, but your strength and your character in dealing with the burdens unfairly placed upon your shoulders is testament to the boys you were and the men you have become. I'm so very proud of you both, and I only hope you will look back on my contribution here and think the price that you've been asked to pay has been worthwhile.
That brings me to the most important individual in my life, my wife, Sinead. A lesser husband would have baulked when his wife told a Labor-leaning journalist that the secret to our successful marriage is that we are both actually in love with the same man. But not me! No, no, no—I commend Sinead for her honesty, her insight and her good humour! Sinead is the most amazing person I know. She continues to be my best friend and my confidante in all things. As a wife and a mother, I could not have asked for any better. And during my political service, the only time I detected any real despair from Sinead was when I got a desperate phone call late one evening saying she had to send the new puppy back because it was too much work and making such a mess. I quietly explained to her that with puppies, like with politicians, the chaos and noise eventually pass and things will soon return to normal. I can tell you all that the dog is now fine, but the husband might need a little bit of extra training! Sinead, thank you for everything. I would be nothing without you.
During my time in this place, I seem to have had my hand in in a number of notable events. That wasn't always by design, but, always knowing that our time here is finite, I simply never wanted to walk lightly through these corridors wondering, 'What if?' Looking back, I'd like to think I took Kipling's words to heart in that here I met both triumph and disaster and treated those two imposters just the same. That said, it isn't for me to pass judgement on my contribution over the years. However, I do want to conclude by reflecting on the very nature of success. Each of us will have different measures of what it means to be a success, but, when I think about the difficult life of modern politics, if you can get through it without harbouring malice or discontent you have achieved success. If you can end your time here with more firm friendships than when you began, that too is a good measure of success. And if you can leave the Canberra bubble with your marriage stronger, a family you are truly proud of, and completely at peace with yourself, that to me is the ultimate measure of success. Friends, I have been blessed to have been part of this place since 2006, and I walk away with all of these treasures and many, many more. For that, I thank the people of South Australia, I thank the Liberal Party and I thank my friends and my family. I thank every one of you, and every day I give thanks to God. Thank you.
Honourable senators: Hear, hear!
I rise to pay tribute to our close friend and valued colleague Senator Cory Bernardi. His speech today was again vintage Cory. What we saw was a man with great integrity—honest, direct, warm, humorous—and he will leave this chamber being held in very high regard, I am sure, by most of us in this chamber, if not all of us in this chamber. He is a conviction politician who has always stood up for what he believes in with great fervour. I know that on all sides of this chamber, whether we agree or disagree, we respect the way Cory has approached his engagement in the battle of ideas over his 13 years in this chamber.
Cory has made an outstanding contribution to the Liberal cause and to our nation, but he has, in his remarks tonight, left a significant part of his life out that I believe needs to be put on the public record. Before Cory arrived in the Senate in 2006, he had already made a pretty significant contribution to our country in a different form. Most of you know that, in his younger years, Cory was a talented athlete. As a young rower, he represented South Australia in the state youth eight, rowed for his club and won in the famous Henley Royal Regatta before being selected in the South Australian men's senior eight. In 1989 he became an Australian national representative when he was selected in the coxless four, which competed in the World Rowing Championships in what was then called Yugoslavia. I'm surprised Cory hasn't touched on this today because he does often touch on that part of his life history. For those of you who know your rowing history, you would remember that that particular team became known as the 'Oarsome Foursome' though unfortunately—and Cory has told us this story against himself on a number of occasions in the past—he was a member of that crew before it became awesome. A bad back injury sadly ended Cory's promising rowing career. New recruits came into that crew and they went on to win the world championship and Olympic gold medals.
The Oarsome Foursome were well known. One of the first memories I have of Australia, after coming here as a migrant, were these ads that had an advertising jingle and these Oarsome Foursome singing heads. I believe it was for canned fruit. Cory could have been a great asset to the Oarsome Foursome in that advertisement, because Cory is actually a very good singer. He did not touch on that in his speech either. Over the years he has become quite famous for his karaoke skills, which clearly attest to that.
Rowing's loss eventually became the nation's gain, but not before Cory got some real-life and business experience. He spent time—wait for this—working as a labourer in Libya, building tents for Colonel Gaddafi! And he cheated death after being hit by a car at England's Doncaster Racecourse. Back in Adelaide, Cory bought a share in his family's pub and worked in the popular hotel, hosting and entertaining patrons, including some of the state's senior businesspeople and well-known journalists. He later switched careers to become an investment adviser and fund manager.
But of course Cory was an active and committed member of the Liberal Party. In 1997 he became the South Australian Liberal Party's vice-president, and in 1998, at just 28 years of age, he became state party president. In South Australia at the time, I am reliably informed that he was known as the 'boy king'. Is that right?
Senator Bernardi interjecting—
He later became the youngest-ever federal Liberal Party vice-president, which is when I first met Cory. I was the state vice-president of the Liberal Party in WA at the time. Cory, who was very active as federal vice-president, visited our state conference and that's when we first started to get to know each other, before either of us were in the parliament.
Cory arrived in this place as a Liberal Party senator for South Australia in May 2006, selected to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of Robert Hill. I came here the following year and, as Cory outlined, there were four of us—Cory, Michaelia, David and me—who had a very close-knit friendship group at the time, loosely described as the 'G4'. Of course, with any grouping that you're a part of, you always aim to grow the size of the group and I think it's a group that, over time, has had a beneficial impact on a number of significant policy issues for our nation.
The thing I learned very quickly about Cory, and something that is true to this day, is that Cory is very much a conviction politician. To the frustration, perhaps, of some in our party he did not always stick to the talking points, but he always stuck to what he believed in. That is why he leaves the Senate with his integrity absolutely intact and with the very high regard and respect that we hold him in as he departs this place. The old adage is that if you don't believe in something you'll fall for anything; Cory certainly has strong beliefs and he didn't fall for much at all. The things he most believes in are strong family values, individual freedoms, free enterprise and the greatness of the Australian nation.
Cory has always believed that we can use our values and our beliefs to make the future better for our children and our grandchildren. His instincts are towards smaller government and lower taxes, and he asked me another very insightful series of questions on that today. He is economically and socially conservative; in fact, he has often quite appropriately been described as a conservative warrior. Cory's beliefs and convictions have been shown many times in this place. In 2009, together with a number of us, Cory was strongly opposed to Labor's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. We worked together to protect Australians from the impact of that scheme by ultimately being successful in having it defeated in this place. That's something that the Labor Party and the Greens are still talking about, as they were marking the 10-year anniversary of these events earlier in the week.
Cory served as a shadow parliamentary secretary in five different portfolio areas: families and community services; disability, carers and the voluntary sector; for the Leader of the Opposition; infrastructure and population policy; and supporting families. When I arrived in this place, together with Cory, I very much envisaged that we would serve together in a future Liberal-National government and make a significant contribution by serving together in that capacity. That is not the way it played out, sadly. But Cory chose the path that enabled him to best contribute his convictions, his talents and his expertise to the betterment of our nation. Cory has had a very significant impact, both inside the Liberal Party and as part of the broader political debate.
I would have preferred it, personally, if Cory had not chosen to leave the Liberal Party in February 2017 to form a separate party after more than 30 years as a member. I understood his motivations but I said to him at the time, privately, that I thought the Liberal Party would be weaker for not having his voice inside our party room; he had been the conservative conscience inside our party room so eloquently and so effectively on so many occasions. I still hold that view. My wish and aspiration would be for Cory to ultimately rejoin the Liberal Party and the Liberal family. Hopefully, that can still happen. I feel there has been a great, positive rapprochement in recent months which I hope will ultimately lead to him formally rejoining our great organisation.
There is no doubt that Cory leaves this place with his credibility and integrity absolutely intact. He has always stood up for what he believed in, and he has done it with great humour. That is, no doubt, why he had such close and genuine friendships with people on all sides of the chamber. People understand that, with Cory, it is never personal; it is genuinely always engagement in the battle of ideas, trying to find the best possible way of making our country better and stronger for the future.
Cory has given our country 13 years of great service in the Senate and we should all be very grateful for his service. On behalf of the government and on behalf of the Liberal and National parties in the Senate: Cory, thank you so much for what you've done. Our very best wishes to you, Sinead and your whole family for the future. Don't be a stranger. Please keep in touch. The membership form will be in the mail!
I rise on behalf of the opposition and all of Senator Bernardi's friends on this side of the chamber to acknowledge his contribution to the Senate. I should start by thanking him for the references to me; I'm sure I'll see your fine words about me quoted in a document by my opponents in my next preselection contest!
Senator Bernardi grew up in an Italian migrant family who ran successful hotels in Adelaide, and it was there that he developed a lifelong love of alcohol, which he referred to today. He mentioned gin and tonics. He didn't mention Manhattans or some of the other alcoholic beverages that I know he enjoys. In his youth, he was a champion rower and he was given an AIS scholarship. But his career in that regard was tragically cut short.
I know you won't want me to mention this, Senator Bernardi, but you were of course recruited to the Liberal Party by Christopher Pyne—subsequently your bete noire—and then you were chosen by the Parliament of South Australia to replace Senator Robert Hill. And in this place you were mentored by Nick Minchin—yes, there he is. There is a link between Nick and me. He claims credit for my first political defeat in 1988. I did get even with him. On one occasion I was giving a speech at a fundraiser for the Adelaide Zoo. The fundraiser was to help redevelop Minchin House. I was happy to tell all the people in the audience that, next thing you know, he'd be claiming that he's got a relationship with the Minchin after whom the house was named—and it turned out to be true; he did have a relationship with them. I thought he was a blow in from New South Wales!
Senator Bernardi was first elected to the Senate in 2007 and was subsequently re-elected in 2013 and 2016. We, of course, are both elected representatives of that great state, South Australia. Just as an aside—and, again, Senator Bernardi probably doesn't want me to mention this—he was also born one day apart from our Senate leader, Senator Wong.
Senator Bernardi also represented Australia internationally, attending the United Nations General Assembly as a parliamentary representative. I remember that, at the time, you seemed to think that you got that appointment because your party wanted to get you out of the country. And I think it was there that you realised the terrible state of the Liberal Party. When you came back to Australia you resigned from the Liberal Party to form the Australian Conservatives, absorbing Family First in the process. Unfortunately, the enthusiastic riding of the Trump wave didn't bring you to prosperous electoral shores in Australia. However, you were and always have been a conviction politician—and this is certainly a rare qualification in the ranks of those opposite.
You've also had the good sense to vote independently in your position as a conservative. When the government, in the dying days of the last parliament, sought to outrageously expend taxpayers money on radio and TV advertising, you voted with the opposition to disallow that motion. I think that'll be one of your great achievements in this place.
I'd particularly like to acknowledge the contribution you've made as a committee chair and as a temporary chair here in the Senate. You're an excellent chair of the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee and a model for others. You are fair in your distribution of time to the opposition, something I particularly emphasise, and reasonable in your approach to ministers and public servants at estimates. You're not afraid to join in opposition questioning on occasions when you're sceptical about the responses given by ministers or public servants. Similarly, you're an excellent acting deputy president in the Senate, and you could be trusted to preside over debate diligently and impartially. In the committee of the whole you're a sound pair of hands, managing amendments and complicated questions before the chair. And, with all due respect to the current occupant, if things had worked out differently, you would have made a terrific President of the Senate one day.
You also have a pretty good knack of jumping to speak on a bill in senators' statements just before it hits two o'clock—and question time, when of course most senators are in the chamber. And, as we've seen today, you love a good audience! It must be said that you're a strong speaker in this place. You possess the skill of being able to speak eloquently without relying on a written speech. That's a rare skill and has made you a compelling and engaging speaker in this place.
You've been a widely recognised backbencher during your time here in the Senate. You've been outspoken, and that's given you a level of notoriety beyond many in this place—even above ministers. Of course, this has been aided by a very good sense of humour. Your contributions to debate in this place and your adeptness at chairing the Senate and its committees will be missed. The opposition acknowledges your service to the Senate. I'm pretty sure Senator Bernardi will continue to provide a positive contribution to the Australian community after politics.
I'd also like to make reference to Senator Bernardi's wife, Sinead. I wish her all the very best in life after politics. Senator Bernardi has already used this line, but I'm going to use it again: Sinead once famously said that she and Corey were both in love with the same man! I wish them and their two sons, Oscar and Harvey, all the best and hope they enjoy the peace and tranquillity of Coffin Bay on the beautiful Eyre Peninsula.
On behalf of the National Party, I'd like to make a short contribution. Those of us who are privileged to work here in this place know of Senator Bernardi's passion, his passionately held views and, importantly, his strongly lived conservative values. We'll be very, very sad to see him go. He has at times been a headline writer's dream because of those impassioned speeches in this chamber. But wider Australia got to know him a little bit better thanks to fellow South Australian Annabel Crabb, who asked him some probing questions. He handled those with his strong conviction. As Nats, we were all incredibly impressed with how he handled the Australian sustainably harvested prawns and salmon on the barbecue! He did that very, very well during that episode. In hindsight, we could have recruited you, Senator Bernardi, to the grill at the National Party annual Christmas seafood barbecue over the years!
Senator Bernardi is a true friend of regional Australia and agriculture. During one of the many debates in this place on water he said, 'When I look at the river, I see a river, I see trees and I see aquatic life, but I also see communities and agriculture, and I actually see them as necessary.' He went on to talk about the economic lifeline that water is to agriculture for rural and regional communities in this country.
Regarding his past as an elite athlete, as a past sports minister I think he'd make a great contribution in a certain ongoing organisation that deals a lot with sport in the future—
Senator Farrell interjecting—
He is an excellent chair, Senator Farrell, but his past as an elite athlete has served him well—his ability to work with and lead successful teams, his work ethic, his focus and his discipline. And I think you saw today, and through his entire work, his respect for his foes. I think that's important.
He has defended and argued for his beliefs and passions with conviction, often in the face of substantial public criticism that was, in the majority, completely unnecessary. But quiet Australians appreciated Senator Bernardi's contribution to the public debate. They recognised their values, their opinions and their perspective in a lot of what he has been able to contribute in this place and outside it, over time. He has paid politically and personally for those views. It is lovely to see his family here. Families are our sometimes unwilling conscripts to the work that we do. Those beautiful boys really are a testament to you and Sinead. Well done to everyone there.
Senator Bernardi has always presented his views in a respectful way. I think the word 'integrity' sums up the way Senator Bernardi has chosen to approach his politics. Importantly, he's always accepted the majority public decision when it is against his own personal views—a true democrat, but in a good way. I think that shows his strength of character.
We've got three new National Party female senators after the election, and they've all made comments around wanting to thank Senator Bernardi for making them feel so welcome and for being so generous in sharing his experience and knowledge. I know that if two National Party members of 'the G8' were here they would also want to say a huge thank you. For us Nationals, for that group to stand so strong in the face of such fierce opposition—you changed the course of our nation, and I think we all owe you and that group of eight people a debt of gratitude.
Senator Bernardi, your pre-political life covered a lot of areas. The National Party love a good small business owner. If you are tired in your retirement, if it doesn't deliver all you're hoping it will, there is a conservative party looking for new South Australian members. It shares your Christian values and your family values. It also seeks to represent rural and regional Australia. It's a party that enjoys a seafood barbecue and a Christmas party with family and friends. It's a party of patriots. Go well, Cory, the Nationals thank you for your friendship, integrity and values and for your contribution to our nation.
I too rise tonight to pay tribute to Senator Cory Bernardi as he ends the circle in the same way that he came into this place: in fine form and with great distinction.
In 2006, I was just a member of the Liberal Party. We had our WA state conference—Senator Cormann will know this well—and the guest speaker for our state conference, which is always a very privileged position to have, was a person called Mr Cory Bernardi. He was from South Australia, the great state, and he was coming to address us—he was a federal vice-president of our party at the time—in relation to conviction politics. I didn't know much about Mr Cory Bernardi at the time, but I do remember that there was a buzz of excitement as this person walked into the room. He was tall, he was dark—and I believe Cory has often said, 'And I'm also handsome.' So yes, Cory: tall, dark and handsome.
It was also Matthias back then, he says! I remember when Cory Bernardi walked up on to the stage—again, I didn't know who he was—and started to address us. There were several hundred people in the room. I thought to myself: 'This person is a man of conviction. This is a person standing before us Liberals who understands the fundamental beliefs that we hold as conservatives. Not only does he understand those fundamental beliefs; by what he is saying, he is someone who lives by those principles each and every day.'
We in this place, as elected members, would all know that one of the greatest challenges whilst you are here is to stand up publicly for what you believe in—in particular, when you are under sustained attack as you have been, Senator Bernardi, on many, many occasions. But you have never wavered. You have never questioned yourself. You have never questioned your principles. Why? Because on the day that you arrived in this place, you were a senator who truly knew what he believed in. You were a senator who openly stated: 'I am a committed conservative. I am someone who, regardless of what is thrown at me during the time that I represent the people of South Australia, will be unapologetic for what I believe in, and I will advocate every day for the principles that I believe in.' You are without a doubt a conviction politician, and I think that, when you leave this place, to be known as someone who has stood by their principles each and every day is something you should be very, very proud of. You have never wavered from your beliefs, and you should leave here today with your head held high.
In the almost 12 years that I have now known you, the friendship that you, Senator Cormann and I have had, I think we can honestly say, has sustained us each and every day. During our friendship, and I think in almost every conversation, the one thing you have always impressed upon us is your absolute love for your wife, Sinead, and your two boys, Oscar and Harvey. Oscar and Harvey: without a doubt, you are the shining light in your father's life. Never ever forget that, because he has reminded Matthias and me of that every single day that we have known him. Sinead: whilst you and Corey might both be in love with the same man—Cory is very open about that and reminds us about it on a regular basis!—you sustain him, you are his foundation. Without that foundation Cory would not be the man that he is today. Cory, I joined you here as a colleague. I am so proud that, as you give your valedictory in this chamber, I am able to say: My friend, I look forward to seeing you. Enjoy your life after politics.