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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 96

Senator HILL (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (7:02 PM) —I would like to say a few words on the retirement of my friend and colleague John Tierney. I have known John for the 14 years that he has served with us in the Senate and I am pleased to be able to call him a friend as well as a colleague. This is a little bit of context: I only learned for the first time tonight that John aspired to be a senator at the age of 14. Usually life moves in mysterious ways and our aspirations are not necessarily achieved, but I guess that if that was his plan from a very young age it must have been with a great sense of achievement that John became a senator. When you look back at his upbringing, education and early role in party politics, you see a person of great determination. It now seems to me to be obvious that he was always going to be a senator.

John probably does not want me to say this but he contracted polio at birth and therefore he had an added burden in his younger years that most of us do not have to endure. I guess that that is part of the determination about which I just spoke. He progressed well through his education, with a Bachelor of Economics, a Master of Education and a PhD in education from the University of Sydney and the University of Newcastle. He was appointed as the youngest university lecturer at the age of 23. So, again, we see someone of not only considerable capability but also great determination.

In his early involvement in politics with the Young Liberals you see the same spirit. I have been told a story that suggests that perhaps his first foray into politics was nearly his last. In 1964 he led a protest against ALP plans to jail shopkeepers for Sunday trading. Apparently, he and the 30 Young Liberals he was leading found themselves in the middle of a 500-strong ALP campaign launch. It took the assistance of the local police to rescue John from that encounter. We are pleased that he survived and that he continued with his political ambitions.

John came to us, as I said, 14 years ago after working his way up through the Liberal Party organisation in New South Wales, where he made a considerable contribution. Not surprisingly, we saw him as somebody who had a great knowledge in education matters and we wished to use that to our party’s advantage. We also believed that that could be used, through our party, to the national advantage through work in the Senate. We certainly have not been let down in that regard. John has been arguably the best informed education speaker in this place for a long time. I am pleased I can say that with Senator Kay Patterson out of the chamber. ‘Arguably’ covers Kay and perhaps one or two others.

Certainly, John is always well informed in the education debate. Whether it is school education, preschool education, vocational education, higher education or whatever, he is well informed. He has contributed in a substantial way, through the Senate committee system, through our party and through backbench processes that he has been deeply involved in, to solutions that he regarded as being better for education and therefore better for all Australians. His contribution to Australian politics within the education sphere is something of which I believe he can be justifiably proud.

He also decided, upon coming here, not to limit himself to education but to adopt the field of communications as a second string to his bow. That coincided with the time of the communications revolution, and John Tierney became extremely well informed and made a major contribution to the parliament’s contribution, in turn, to the communications debate in this country. In that area he was a great asset to us as well and contributed to better communications policy and information technology policy in other areas of that field within our country.

I think of John in a number of different areas. Firstly, I think of him in the area that I have mentioned, which is his substantial contribution to important policy areas in the Senate and parliament. He looked to make a contribution that improved people’s lives. He is an example that you can very effectively use the opportunities within the Senate and its committee system, in particular, to make a contribution to public life in Australia. He did that very well.

Secondly, I think of John as someone who has been a major contributor to my party, the Liberal Party of Australia, for a long period of time. He has had his highs and lows within the party. Senator Payne might be better qualified to speak about some aspects of the highs and lows within the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party of Australia, but John was always participating in the forums of the party, putting forward his ideas. He was always a person of ideas, wanting to engage in the policy debate. He occasionally slipped into the numbers game—again, with mixed success but not bad success for 14 years. He is somebody who has made a significant contribution to our party.

Thirdly, I think of John as somebody who, for a very long time, fought for the community of Newcastle and its surrounds. He fought for their interests, and I have seen many examples. After the BHP closure, it was John Tierney looking for a new future for Newcastle. I can think of particular businesses that John Tierney helped to support—Stuart grand pianos comes to mind. I can think of important heritage issues such as Fort Stratchley in Newcastle, to which he was committed to see conserved and renovated. He has been a great fighter for that area. He was always determined to see Newcastle turn blue. He did not quite achieve that.

Senator Tierney —Not yet!

Senator HILL —Not yet, as he says, but he has certainly helped us win campaigns in the surrounding areas of Newcastle. I know that wins in Paterson and Dobell were very important to John, and they gave him greater determination to plug on with Newcastle. We will not lose him from that campaign, I am pleased to say, because I know that John Tierney will never give up politics, and he will continue until Newcastle does turn blue.

In concluding, I have a couple of other points to make. I would like to mention his contribution to the National Library of Australia, which fits in with his education contribution. That has been very important. I would like to mention the strong moral values that he brought to his contribution to Australian politics. We know the line he took in relation to online gambling, and there were others. His positions were always based on a strong set of personal values, and I think that is very important in politics.

Lastly, I would like to mention his wife Pam. The Tierneys were always a team in politics. Now that John is retiring from the Senate, we will not see as much of either John or Pam. We hope we will still see them around the place. At functions where we brought our spouses together we often had the pleasure of Pam’s company as well, and we witnessed the way in which she supported John throughout his political career. There was never any doubt about John Tierney’s strength of character, but I think Pam might be just as strong, if not stronger. They came to politics with great determination, and I would like to think that, as a team, they can look back on having achieved a great deal over the last 14 years. With those few words, I wish John and Pam all the best for the future.