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Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Page: 4378


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (17:04): Mr President, I think I might need protection from some of my colleagues on both sides of the chamber. Can I say how amazed and humbled I have been at the gestures of goodwill that have been extended to Linda and me. I am starting to worry, in fact, if it might not be an encouragement for me to go.

It is just incredible the number of invitations I have had. Only last Thursday, Senator Whish-Wilson invited me to join the Greens, until such time as I could not vote for his banking bill, then he withdrew the offer. Of course my colleagues here in the National Party all wanted me to join the National Party, but only until Thursday, when they thought they might be able to get the casual vacancy. That has been withdrawn. But I do have to say how appreciative I am of the goodwill that has been expressed.

The eleventh of February 1990 was a day of enormous international significance, not because it was my 40th birthday, but because it was the day on which Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison, including 18 years on Robben Island, was released. For those of you that need to reflect on that, he lived most of his time, 23 hours a day, in a cell that was about the size of the bathrooms in our suites. He had the opportunity of one visit a year and he could send one letter a year. I want to focus on the fact that on the night that he was elected to the presidency of South Africa in April 1994 he said:

I hold out a hand of friendship to the leaders of all parties and their members and ask all of them to join us in working together to tackle the problems we face as a nation. An ANC government will serve all the people of South Africa, not just ANC members.

I make that point because, as I leave, I have to say to you that I feel there are some enormous challenges ahead of us in this country, and it is going to fall to the Senate, on behalf of the people of Australia, to step up to the plate and perform what I will call a 'Mandela moment'. On those occasions when it is necessary that the wellbeing of the people of Australia and this community is to the fore, I ask you to recall the statements of Mandela and please put the country ahead of all else.

While I am on that topic I want to reflect briefly on some of the standards that we have been seeing in the Senate at present, particularly in relation to the personal attacks on people that sometimes occur. I can do nothing better, as usual, than to turn to the library. This quote was given to me yesterday; it is from the 19th century English historian, Henry Thomas Buckle. He said: 'Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.'

Can I urge that this parliament is the senior place in this country. It is from here that the standards are set. It is fantastic that we have had great robust discussions over time. I look at my colleague Senator Doug Cameron. We have gone toe to toe in this place, but on each and every occasion we have walked out and we have made sure that we have had an amicable discussion in the corridor. I do urge that I think that is a reasonable way to go.

Senator Hanson: What have you got that I have not got?

Senator BACK: That is the case, Senator Hanson. I cannot understand, when I had this outpouring of invitations from the Greens and the National Party, where was the Xenophon party, where were the Hansons, and where were the Bernardis inviting me?

I express my appreciation to the state council of the Liberal Party in WA. They preselected me and got me back here three times. It was certainly the rural and regional members that were able to do that for me. I express my appreciation to the electors of WA, who had that level of confidence. I recognise my staff Pierrette Kelly and Lisa Brooks, who have been with me since the beginning of the journey. I especially thank Alex Nicol for being here today. Alex Nicol, in fact, was a staff member for our lovely departed Senator Judith Adams, and Owen Grieve is back in Perth holding the fort. I appreciate them greatly.

It has been a privilege to serve representatives of specific industries. Coming in here as the first veterinarian in the Senate, I could never have dreamed how proud the profession would be. While I am not using props at all, I want to say to Senator Leyonhjelm that I am passing over to you, Senator Leyonhjelm, those marks of our profession that I hope will manage to keep this group under control, as indeed I have.

It has been a great pleasure to represent the agricultural industry, particularly the livestock producers of Australia, and indeed to see agricultural productivity and profitability improve so dramatically. The oil and gas industry from which I came most recently—I have been very proud to prosecute on behalf of that industry in this place.

I recognise, if I may, the permanent secretaries of the Senate, those who support us here, our clerks and the Hansard staff, and I particularly comment on the Comcar drivers because I think they are just such an invaluable resource for us.

I know we all have our discussions and our fights in Senate estimates, but I do go back to the words of my late mother, and they are, 'You'll always catch more bees with honey than you will catch with vinegar.' I am reluctant to mention any by name except for the service chiefs: Chief of Defence Force Mark Binskin; his deputy, Ray Griggs; the Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell; the Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Tim Barrett; and the Chief of Air Force, Air Commodore Leo Davies. They have an enormous challenge ahead of them to be able to meet the objectives that we in the parliament have of them.

We are all very proud of our family, as of course I am. We have three children, and I do not know why they all left to go overseas. First of all I thought it was the fact—

Senator Fierravanti-Wells: And they took their dogs!

Senator BACK: Yes, and they took their dogs! I thought it was the fact that we charged them rent and board and they would not pay that, so they just did not leave. Then I knocked the house down in 2000 and 2001. So, if anyone wants to know how to get rid of the kids: you've got to knock the house down! Our daughter Elizabeth, with her husband, Peter, and our grandson, Christopher, are in Panama, where I am very proud to say that Elizabeth is Australia's honorary Consul-General—honorary because she does not get paid. But Elizabeth is doing a phenomenal job representing the people of Australia. You would not believe the increase in trade. She is working, of course, with David Engel, our ambassador in Mexico City. But I have also got to say to you that, as she is an excellent mergers and acquisitions lawyer, in 2011 the executive of Meat & Livestock Australia were very pleased to have the depth of Elizabeth's knowledge in corporations law when they got themselves into a problem out of which she was able to resurrect them.

Our older son, Mike, is a very successful wine merchant in Singapore. He certainly enjoys the company of enormous numbers of expats up there. And it is not only Australian wines. In fact I do not think there are any Tasmanian wines in the stable, Mr President, but you had occasion recently to share a day with Mike, and I think you will confirm his knowledge of wine marketing. With his advice to me in terms of the international wine market and the work that Senator Ruston has been doing in the wine equalisation tax, I have been really appreciative of his advice and assistance.

Our youngest son, Justin, married to Courtney in Dallas, Texas. Justin was a combat officer in the Light Armoured Corps of the Royal Australian Army. He led the first group into Iraq in 2003 as a lieutenant and he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal as a result of that work and then went into Afghanistan in 2006 as a combat officer. As I say, he is now running a large emergency services company in Dallas, Texas, and of course Linda and I are incredibly proud of him as we are of their spouses and our grandchildren.

Justin has provided constant attention and assistance to me in all of the issues that we have had associated with those various aspects of the ADF. He maintains a very close contact with his network of serving and past members of the ADF. As I say, we are looking forward to spending a lot more time with them.

You reflect on where things have gone well, and I have got to say to you that it has been in the committee that we have done biosecurity issues that protect Australia's borders, the increase in agricultural activity across Australia and the work that we have done in beef levies and other areas. The live export ban was a sad moment in the history of this place, and I am very proud to say that work that was done by colleagues across the chamber with the secretariats and, of course, the input of people who so kindly make submissions. Marine plastics is an area in which I never knew that I could express an interest—until I was drawn into it. It was led by Senator Whish-Wilson. And there is the space of suicide in ADF personnel and military veterans, and I credit Senator Lambie for her knowledge and enthusiasm in bringing that particular topic. It is a sadness for me that I will not be here for the actual report and presentation, but I know that Senator Gallacher, Senator Fawcett, Senator Moore, Senator Kitching and Senator Lambie, together with the excellence of the secretariat, will bring together a report with recommendations of which the Senate, I am sure, will be proud.

The one that I want to focus on most, however, is cancer in firefighters. It was the case that a fireman burnt in a fire would be compensated but someone who got a cancer had to prove which fire it was where they picked up the carcinogen four or five years earlier that was now killing them. Of course I commend the work of my friend Senator Gavin Marshall. It was the firefighters union that came to us requesting that seven cancers be recognised. Indeed, it was as a result of the presence of the chief officer from Alberta in Canada, Mr Ken Block, who came to Perth as a witness and convinced us that there were no rabid increases in workers' compensation claims but that there was a decrease. Block told us that 13 cancers were recognised by medicine internationally, and I remember turning to Senator Marshall and saying, 'They have requested seven; if 13 are valid then we should go with 13.' I give credit to people on my side and I am sure that Senator Marshall does as well. It was a day, 25 November 2011—I am sure one of the blackest days in this place—where we time managed bills. We stopped for an hour, debated that bill and passed it unanimously. Of course it only applied to federal legislation but very quickly it passed through to the states. Only last year, Mr Block came back to Canberra to tell Senator Marshall and me that, whilst he was responsible for giving us the evidence, there was no legislation but that legislation passed in this place—the Australian parliament—has become the benchmark for similar legislation throughout the provinces of Canada, the United States and Europe. That is what I call a Mandela moment because we were doing exactly what the people of Australia wanted us to do. I think that has been absolutely amazing.

There have been a couple of disappointments of course: national bushfire mitigation. I came into this place straight after the Black Saturday fires, having come out of the Bush Fires Board of WA. Led by Bill Heffernan, we had a tremendous inquiry into the impact of major bushfires around Australia. I have always vowed that I would not leave this place until such time as we had policy in place nationally to mitigate against the risk of bushfires. I did not succeed. My Criminal Code Amendment (Animal Protection) Bill 2015 sits on the statute and is not going to be debated, I suspect, within the next 48 hours. Of course, the other one—for a Western Australian particularly—is the inconsistency that rests with the goods and services tax distribution. That is a matter nationally, not just for our state, that needs to be addressed.

It was about this time of the year in March 1972 that I was a young veterinarian in a town called Merredin, halfway between Perth and Kalgoorlie. I came to learn—you would think I would have been a bit quicker as she turned up in the February—about that time of year that an absolutely gorgeous young English teacher had arrived in Merredin, at the high school, and by an amazing coincidence she happened to be living in the street behind me. It is true to say that I did have an ulterior motive—as you probably suspect I may have—in wanting to go around and see this young lady and make myself known to her. But it is not the motive that you may have thought. I turned up, a little nervous—only Senator Leyonhjelm would relate to this because he has probably tried the same one-liner—knocked on the door and said, 'Would you like to come and help me do a caesarean operation on a cow.' Fortunately for me she did say 'yes' and she did not faint at the first sight of blood, and, indeed, the cow lived—and I always thought that was wonderful. And 45 years later, Linda has been with me every step of the journey, through eight careers, seven states and territories, six countries, two children and two grandchildren and one on the way. Linda is the glue that holds our family together. She cannot be here today and I suppose that is one of the challenges associated with travel from Western Australia. Her 92-year-old father faces cardiac surgery tomorrow and, as an old RAAF airman who saw service on Lancaster bombers over Germany right through the war, her priority, quite rightly, is with him. I do hope, of course, that our second date will also last for 45 years. That is going to start on an old Dutch barge on a French canal in a very few number of weeks.

I conclude with the same Irish prayer I used when I finished my first speech, on St Paddy's Day in 2009:

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind always be at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

And rains fall soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you safe in the palm of His hand.