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Tuesday, 15 March 2005
Page: 104

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (7:44 PM) —I would add my comments to those of previous speakers who have come to praise John Tierney. My few comments are completely unscripted and perhaps not put as elegantly as I would have otherwise liked, but I could not let this opportunity pass without recording some of my thoughts on the contribution that John Tierney has made to the Senate and to the mighty New South Wales division of the Liberal Party. Just on that point, Senator Tierney has been an active member of the Liberal Party for over 42 years, starting out in student politics whilst at university. So he is somebody who is steeped in political interest and political savvy, which found him inevitably wending his way into elected office.

I understand that his first office-holding position was in 1973 in the Newcastle area, after he had joined the academic staff at the University of Newcastle—which was, I suspect, not the most hospitable of places to be a Liberal in those days. He became a senator in 1991 and has had a distinguished career in all respects. He was parliamentary secretary to the shadow minister for communications and IT in 1994 and 1996. So I have been motivated to speak also because he has a vast knowledge in the area of my portfolio, which is communications, information technology and the arts; in all three areas, he has excelled in his contribution. He knows a great deal about communications—despite Senator Conroy’s burgeoning knowledge and interest, perhaps even he could learn something from Senator Tierney.

Senator Conroy —Dwarfed by Senator Tierney!

Senator Ian Macdonald —It wouldn’t be hard.

Senator COONAN —Certainly I can benefit and have very much benefited from his wisdom in a number of areas. I am sure that earlier speakers have gone through his distinguished contribution and career in the Senate. But one of the things which characterises Senator Tierney—and it is the thing I particularly want to pick up on—is the extent to which, right throughout his career, he has been able to identify a cause or an issue of importance to a community and then to not only gain some expertise in it but also be almost inexhaustible in the way he pursues it. That can be found particularly in his interest in mental health issues—which, I must say, is also an area very dear to my heart. But I cannot even pretend to have made the kind of contribution that Senator Tierney has made in these areas. I can say, without fear of contradiction, that he is certainly the most prolific advocate of mental health causes that this Senate has seen in many years.

We have all benefited from his activity and energy for 15 years. He is someone who is always prepared to take the fight up, wherever it is required. He is always there when needed. He is someone whose enthusiasm for what he does is quite infectious. He disguises, I think, a slight disability and shows that people can overcome certainly a physical disability such as he has had. He has been a keen tennis player and, as he says, has succeeded because he has been so accurate where others have had to rely on speed. I think in many respects that personifies his entire Senate career. His accuracy, his dedication and his persistence have won through in so many ways. He has been interested and active in workplace relations, in rural and regional issues and foreign affairs and trade.

Just as a farewell performance, he gave me the rounds of the kitchen on Telstra and Lifeline. But in that regard I happen to be very much on his side—as, indeed, with his wife Pam, he is very committed to all that Lifeline does. We never come to this place without the support of others. I am sure that others have also mentioned that Pam Tierney has made perhaps in many ways a shadow contribution to that of John’s, but it is my great pleasure to acknowledge her role in making a team. Together they have made a very great contribution to our Senate family.

Having already made a sustained and important contribution, John, I know that you are going to continue in another field. We know your chosen endeavour and I am sure that you will be very good at it. Having been part of our Senate family, I am sure you know that you have our respect, affection and good wishes—and I say this not only on behalf of your many friends in the New South Wales division but also on behalf of your Liberal Senate family. I am sure that all senators wish you all the very best.