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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 98

Senator ALLISON (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (7:12 PM) —On behalf of my colleagues, the Australian Democrats senators, I am pleased to join in this acknowledgment of the contribution made by Senator Tierney to this place. John, I understand that you filled a casual vacancy after the resignation of Peter Baume in 1991, and that makes 14 years of service in this place, which is no small length of time. I also understand that you joined the Liberal Party at the age of 10, having heard the Prime Minister of the day, Mr Menzies, on the radio. I was told that he was speaking at the opening of a poultry convention. That is quite something. We have some young members, but they are certainly not as young as 10. That shows a great deal of commitment at a very early age.

John, I know you best from being a fellow member of the education committee. I have appreciated your input into that committee over the years since I have been on it, since 1996. It has been obvious to most of us in this place that you are a very strong defender of your local area, and that of course is the Hunter Valley. We have heard a lot in this place about Newcastle, and we have heard a lot about the Carr government and its appalling behaviour, whether it was on education or in any other area. You have used this place, as we all do, to make points about the governance of your own area. You have been interested in employment and economic matters and mental health services. Most recently, I worked with you on the development of the terms of reference for our mental health inquiry, and I thank you for your contribution to that. It is something of a pity that you will not be on that committee to see it through. I think it will be a fine committee and it is a good inquiry, and I think the outcome will benefit many Australians.

You have also been very interested in the Kosovar refugees. They were given accommodation at the Singleton Army base, and you had quite some involvement, as I understand it, with those people. You have had a longstanding interest in disability education. Along with many other references to the education committee, this was an inquiry that you were keen to see undertaken. During the period that you were on that committee with me—I am still on it—we put together a number of references that the committee pursued. I think that is somewhat unusual. It is not often that government senators give so many references to a references committee, but you did. That was partly due to your persistence and your persuasive arguments. I congratulate you on that.

I acknowledge the presence of Pam in the chamber. I met you on just one occasion, and that was on one of those inquiries. I think it was when we went to Maningrida in the Northern Territory, in one of the most remote areas, inquiring into Indigenous education. I wondered how that was for you. I could not imagine bringing my partner along to an inquiry, but you were very much welcomed there.

More recently, Senator Tierney has taken up the cause of Lifeline. Pam, as we all know, is the CEO of Lifeline in Newcastle. I had an email just the other day saying that others of us should take up your bill, present it to the parliament and see it through so that Lifeline continues to get free telephone services. I am not sure, Senator Tierney, how you regard me, but you did some time ago say:

The last time I said something nice about a Democrat was at the valedictory of Karen Sowada; she had the makings of a great parliamentarian and her loss was a great loss to this place.

Robert Bell preceded and followed Karen Sowada as a member of the Senate Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training. I found them both a delight to work with on parliamentary committees, unlike the Neanderthals who appeared and disappeared quite often from the Labor side of those committees.

You, obviously, will not be around for my valedictory, so I will not know how you feel about my contribution. But I certainly do remember the many somewhat testy occasions on which you and Senator Carr engaged in the Senate estimates process and the education inquiries of various sorts. They are legendary.

I want to acknowledge your work on what I think are the key inquiries that the education committee conducted: the inquiries into education for gifted children, education for the disabled and, as I mentioned earlier, education for Indigenous Australians. The findings of that committee in those inquiries were central to improving education for those groups of people. But there were many other inquiries. That is a very busy committee that has conducted a number of inquiries. I acknowledge your contribution to setting up those inquiries, the conduct of them and the writing of the reports. That has been most valuable. I wish you well in whatever you do next. I hope it is as interesting as this 14-year career has been. I am sure it will be. I hope you enjoy your time away from this place.