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Tuesday, 7 February 2017
Page: 65


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Education and Training) (16:53): I rise to associate myself particularly with the remarks of Senator Brandis but also with those of Senator Wong, Senator Scullion and Senator Siewert in relation to the late Russell Trood. And as I commence I acknowledge former senator Brett Mason, who I note has entered the public gallery during the course of this condolence motion and of course, as Senator Brandis rightly acknowledged, was one of the trifecta of Liberal senators elected successfully at that 2004 election that brought Senator Trood ultimately to this parliament.

Russell was I would say twice in my parliamentary life something of a mentor to me. Upon my election to this place in 2007, when I entered here as a 32-year-old senator, Russell, with just two years under his belt here but much more life experience—a 58-year-old senator—I think took me as something of a student and a project of his for a period of time. I am forever grateful for the time we had sitting next to one another on the opposition benches as we did for a period of time, and the various lessons that, in his way, he managed to share with me during that time—always calm, knowledgeable, dignified, considered, helpful and constructive in his approach. He certainly drilled me in the most gentle and thoughtful of ways in ensuring that I did my research, knew my brief and tried to adopt a constructive approach to the way I went about my politics. Certainly that was the way he went about his politics.

But it was not just in those early years of my time here that Russell provided that type of role and mentoring. It was subsequent to my appointment to the ministry, after Russell had left this Senate. But of course, as others have reflected, education was one of Russell's great public policy passions, as a professor and academic researcher. It is a subject about which he was intensely knowledgeable. So, there were numerous occasions following my appointment firstly as assistant minister with responsibility for vocational education, about which Russell also spoke in his first speech, and then my appointment to the cabinet as the minister for education where I valued meeting with and discussing with Russell different aspects of education policy and the challenges that I have sought to confront in that space.

And I will greatly miss his wise counsel and knowledge and knowing that I had a trusted confidant at the other end of the phone with whom I could discuss some of those difficult issues and who would understand them. Russell was always—always—a friend and one you could trust completely, with absolute confidence, I found. And that of course is not always something that in this place we can say with such a degree of confidence and in such an absolute sense. On a day like today, a day of political disruption, I will say that I know that Russell did note in his valedictory speech that he himself saw some tumultuous times in his six years in the Senate, and there have been a few tumultuous times in the years since Russell left this place. He did note that they were tumultuous times, and on a day like today it would not have been at all uncommon for us to share a quiet glass of red wine with the odd other trusted colleague to discuss what it meant, what the implications were. Again, Russell would always bring a calm, thoughtful and considered approach to that but also a principled one, one that brought his views, his values, his belief in liberalism to the approach that he believed that we as a party needed to take into the future.

Many have spoken about Russell's contribution outside this place and his contribution in this place, particularly to foreign policy, and I will not repeat those words. I do want to highlight one other area of contribution that I believe deserves praise and recognition, and that is passing his final work in this place, which was as chair of the Senate Select Committee on the Federation and the significant report he produced, into which he put much effort, time and consideration and about which he spoke in his valedictory speech. In doing so, he highlighted the drift from what the founding fathers, one of whom was his great-grandfather, had set in place in the Constitution around the sharing of responsibilities. As with all of Russell's contributions, it was well researched, it was well considered. It provides advice and reference that we would perhaps all do well to go and look up and reconsider some of the thoughts and recommendations that Russell and his colleagues made in that report about how our federation can work more effectively into the future.

When Russell left this Senate I spoke to that valedictory motion about Russell and the other senators who left the Senate at the same time. I went back and had a look at my remarks, and for each of the senators I gave a quote. In the case of Russell, it was from a lesser-known 20th-century American writer, Carson McCullers:

There's nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished.

At the time, I said:

Russell is perhaps not a song unfinished so much as a book unfinished—a great classic novel—whose intelligence, capacity and knowledge deserve to be in this place longer and should be making a longer contribution.

Sadly, Russell left this place all too soon for somebody who could have made a much greater contribution, and he passed away all too soon for somebody who was still, through his work, making a significant contribution to public policy, to public life, to life in Queensland in particular and to life around the world. I was saddened greatly by his loss. I treasured the last few conversations I had with him over the last six months. I was terribly sorry not to be able to be at the recent service that commemorated Russell's life, but in this place, as I have also done personally, I add my condolences to his family, Dale, James and Phoebe, and record the enormous contribution made by a very significant person. I will always treasure his contribution not only here but also to my work in this place.