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Tuesday, 17 June 2014
Page: 3111

Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (17:47): Bish, it is with some deal of regret that we are farewelling you from this place, mate. My colleagues from all sides of politics would agree that Senator Bishop has made a significant contribution in his time in the Senate. I make my comments without any mischief, but, Senator Bishop, many on our side of politics were surprised that you were not afforded the opportunity of the front bench. Certainly, with your talents and the high regard with which you are seen on this side of the place, we were not sure why that had not happened. Your capacity has particularly been highlighted by your service as the shadow minister for defence. You have just touched on the excellent work that I and many of us watched for so long in terms of justice. Coming from a garrison town, I can guarantee you that the circumstances that you have driven have really changed the culture across the Defence Force, so congratulations. One only has to turn to your parliamentary web page to see some of the value of the contribution you made to various committees. If there were an award for contributions at committees, Bish, you win that absolutely hands down.

Mark, as a friend and as a colleague, I have enjoyed many a drink with the deadly duo, with yourself and Hutchie, at the Holy Grail. We had plenty of prayers together and I enjoyed them very much. I wish you all the best in the future. You are a true gentleman.

Senator Boswell, I rise not to farewell my friend and my mentor, Senator Boswell, Bozzie, because I do not think my friendship will change. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to his career that has spanned several decades across several governments. There are a few things about Bozzie that are inexplicable. Whilst I knew Bozzie quite well, I can remember the first time I came to parliament. I arrived at some hotel somewhere. I was a fisherman, but I knew how to get here. I got to the Ministerial Entrance because that is the way I had always come. Nobody knew I was coming. I was coming in here to see John Anderson. I arrived at the Ministerial Entrance—nobody knew I was going to be here—and Boswell appeared at the door. He swung the door open and said, 'Nige, come this way,' and we went through security—the normal stuff that I would get used to. I never gleaned an explanation about how he knew that I was arriving at the Ministerial Entrance at that time. He sat me down and told me that this was such an important task because of the changes that I could make to people's lives.

Bozzie has seen many events in this place since he was first elected in May 1983, but at the forefront he has always cared about what such events meant for his constituents and for Australians generally. I will go on to talk about his career more specifically, but it is impossible to talk about the man without talking about his political side. To Bozzie, everything is political. It is political and it is important because he cares deeply about ordinary Australians and how decisions impact on their day-to-day life. Whilst he sees himself as ordinary, I can assure you that he is not. Bozzie's influence and impact on the fabric of Australian society should not be underestimated, even if he considers himself, as he is, a truly humble man. He is a man of conviction and he has always worked away quietly—I have observed somewhat more loudly—but always for others. This humility and authenticity is something that we as politicians and representatives in 2014 can learn from.

As has been indicated, he led the National Party for nearly 18 years in this place. He has been a formidable leader and his leadership has been informed by his conviction that we all have a purpose in making the world a better place. I refer to his speech in the Senate on 25 May 1983, in which he tried to capture the essence of the National Party. He stated:

The National Party of Australia can trace its origins back to 1893 when the circumstances of the day demonstrated the need for a party to look after the political needs of the small businessman, the struggling settler and the people who wanted jobs.

These values have been at the core of Bozzie's approach to his leadership even today. They are values that are as pertinent as ever. He has been strongly motivated to speak for those in our community he considers voiceless, taking up causes that are not always considered fashionable. Some of us may not have agreed with all his views, but it is difficult not to admire a man whose convictions stem from a place wanting a strong and better future for generations to follow.

Lest we rush to the conclusion that Senator Boswell is a man who can simply be characterised as conservative, his approaches have defied definition. For me, as for many of us here, he represents a real paradox. A social conservative but someone who is also a progressive, Bozzie has fought against the far right political movement in Australia, epitomised in the November 2001 federal election, when he refused to preference One Nation. He was able to compete directly with Pauline Hanson and retain his Queensland Senate seat and in the process removed the far right from the Australian political landscape—no mean feat. Bozzie's views on matters of race have always been informed by a basic sense of decency and fairness. When he believes in something strongly, he is truly an irresistible force.

In other areas, Senator Boswell has been a real warrior for family values. As he indicated in his speech, he has opposed human embryonic stem cells for research in Australia and advocated instead of adult stem cell research as a safer, pro-life way forward for this type of progressive science. In 2006 he secured a $22 million federal grant to establish a world-first adult stem cell centre at Griffith University in Brisbane. I have often wondered where Bozzie's inner strength and energy come from. I am convinced that he is driven by his sense of justice, because he is a man of deep faith. He sees himself a man for others, and all life is sacred.

There are few areas of national endeavour that Senator Boswell has not been involved in. In February 1998 he was chosen as the Nationals representative at the constitutional convention, leading the 'no' vote campaign for the referendum on whether Australia should become a republic in November 1999. As a counterpoint to this conservative stance, a decade earlier he campaigned to enable disallowance of mergers between large companies by changing the mergers test in the Trade Practices Act. Bozzie believed in promoting greater competition in Australian consumer markets and giving small businesses an ability to compete.

His other major contributions involved providing better communications for regional areas, enabling collective businesses and farms, campaigning against dumped and highly subsidised imported foodstuffs, providing exceptional circumstances funds for regional and rural dwellers during times of prolonged drought, securing assistance packages for the restructuring of rural industries like dairy, sugar and commercial and recreational fishing, and taking up the case for independent newsagents, service station operators, grocers, farmers, hoteliers and other small businesses in light of the growth of the large retailers. In this place he railed against the unions and academics across the other side who he considered did not understand small business. As always, he wanted to see the creation of jobs, jobs and more jobs, not, as he stated in the Senate, public sector pump priming.

I guess our bromance was really cemented in his support for commercial and recreational fishing. His indefatigable efforts contributed to the reversal of the proposed ban that would have locked out fishing from 1.3 million square kilometres of ocean around Australia. He urged instead for a rational and scientific examination of what was needed in marine parks to ensure genuine consultation. As ever, he was the voice of common sense and refused to bow to alarmism. That is his appeal; he is the everyman.

While in some areas, as I have already indicated, he was a social conservative, in many others I regard him as a visionary. When I first entered parliament he looked at me on that very same day and he said, 'I think you're pretty green.' He was right; I had an awful lot to learn. I have often spoken in this place about the importance of achieving reconciliation with Indigenous people based on promoting Indigenous business and industry. The way out of poverty for disadvantaged Indigenous people is real and meaningful work. But Bozzie was well ahead of me. In June 2006 he gave a memorable speech entitled 'Pathway for reconciliation' in which he said it all. His speech congratulated the Gidarjil Land Development Corporation, which was to take possession of Gaythorne Station. He also recognised Gerhardt Pearson of the Balkanu Cape York Development Corporation and Gay Voss from the AGL Petronas Consortium, involved with the gas pipeline project. In working together, Senator Boswell spoke of the group as achieving reconciliation of substance. I think it is apposite to read from that speech in 2006 which could just as well have been the current government's foundation on the way forward for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. He stated the handover of Gaythorne Station:

… is about not just handing land over but a workable future that goes along with it. Tomorrow puts in place the ability to forge a sustainable economic future for traditional landowners.

He continued:

Maybe if you're looking for a one word definition of reconciliation, you can look to "tomorrow" - one word that means a future for black and white Australians.

…   …   …

And hope can only exist where there is safety, education and employment.

Sound familiar? Today it would serve us well to go back to that fine speech, to reactivate that message of hope and reconciliation and to refocus on the government's current priorities that echo Senator Boswell's call to reconciliation of substance through getting kids to school, getting adults to work and creating safer communities. I know that every single parliamentarian in both houses would support those fine goals.

But it is Indigenous people themselves who have bestowed on the senator the greatest recognition for his work on wild rivers and their attempt to protect their rights to make decisions about their own land. In October 2013 Cape York traditional owners and Indigenous communities, along with Gerhardt Pearson and Richie Ah Mat, gifted Senator Boswell with a plaque calling him 'a champion of our people' for his work on the wild rivers. To appreciate how significant this gesture is one needs to understand that few white Australians ever receive such recognition, let alone a Nationals senator or member of parliament. It must be with some satisfaction that Senator Boswell was able to tell us today that Indigenous groups are celebrating the Federal Court win against development restrictions imposed by the former Queensland government's wild rivers laws. Again his efforts have achieved results.

Bozzie was never in this for recognition, that is for sure. I will share a short anecdote. It was a little bit like coming into parliament and not really understanding why I was there. I was involved in a Defence Force Parliamentary Program. I was in Timor and I was wobbling around exhausted and stumbled out of the jungle in a place called Vikeke. There were a few school kids running around. I put the pack on the ground, slowly recovered, had a few lollies and talked to the kids. Then I was talking to this guy who said, 'How's it going as a soldier?' I said, 'I'm not really a soldier, mate, I'm a dud, a fake—I'm actually a senator at home.' He said: 'An Australian senator? You built the school here.' I looked around and said, 'I don't think we did that, it might be foreign aid money.' He said, 'No, the Australian Senate built this.' I said I wasn't sure about that, but he went off, scurried around to a few blokes and then said, 'Senator Boswell.' I came back to Australia determined to work it out. 'Bozzie,' I said, 'what've you done? I went to this school and they reckoned you built it.' He said: 'Yeah, I did. My family and me invested in our future and built this school.' That goes to the stamp of the man, the sort of contribution that he is happy to make for others and have absolutely no recognition for it.

Before entering parliament, as we all know, Bozzie was a great salesman and he goes to great lengths to tell us that he was a manufacturer's agent, he sold paintbrushes, he sold rubbish bins to councils. I think he brought his sales pitch to parliament. He was an incredible salesman when he was here. Any of those who have been subjected to his 'We're going to do this' and who thought there was any other way would know exactly what salesmen were about. He remained faithful to his origins in keeping at the forefront of public debate the importance of small business and the independent retail sectors.

In his free time, of which there has been little, he has been a very keen yachtsman. There has not been a dull day when I have spent it with Bozzie. I would not mind a dollar for every time he said, 'Your mother only had to carry you for the nine months, Nige, I've had to carry you for 10 years!'—which would normally be the start of quite a long lecture about how I hadn't got it right. His MO since I have known him here is simply, when he comes up against any opposition, to just keep crunching at it until it crumbles. He is a Herculean political force.

I have another quick anecdote, and some in the National Party may recall this—it was one of those monumental Bozzie moments. We were gathered in his suite. He is not much of a drinker and he blames the fact he had a couple of sips of Scotch on my emergence in parliament, but we decided to have a scotch—if quite a few of the National Party people were around we would have a quiet scotch. There was a new bottle but, we discovered, no ice. So Bozzie said, 'Well, let's get some ice!' So Paul, the staffer at the time, rang the Hyatt and went to get some ice while we continued talking. The Hyatt deposited a $5 bag of ice in one of those caddies, so Paul came in with a caddy to much derision from Bozzie: 'You blokes would never survive in private industry. I was a paint salesman. When I want an iceberg …'

I thought that deserved a very well crafted bill to Bozzie the next day from the Hyatt—a very authentic bill for $450 for ice! It was going to be just one of those practical jokes that you play. The 'bill' went into his in-tray with the number to call for the Hyatt. Of course, it was my number, but I had forgotten that Bozzie doesn't use the phone—it was: push 9, 'Get me the Hyatt.' I arrived, after there had been explosions downstairs and panic calls, to see this fairly diminutive person from the Hyatt getting their ears pinned back. We settled it all down and Bozzie took it in absolutely tremendous humour—and I understand he still has that invoice.

I think it is only appropriate as well to acknowledge that Senator Boswell's achievements were as they were because Leita was always there. It is a partnership forged of many successes and also some of their sorrows. Their faith in one another and their ideals have seen them through ups and downs. Leita knows more than anyone that the reason Senator Boswell has continued to give of himself and his time to public life is because it is not really a job, it is a vocation—it is who he is. Leita has borne the sacrifice of having a partner who often belongs to Queensland, the National Party and sometimes the entire country. Sadly, I expect that in retirement not a lot of that will change. Helping and listening to others is just who he is, regardless of what position he may hold.

Bozzie, we will always miss your larger-than-life presence in this place. We have been honoured to work and serve with you. You so richly deserve to enjoy a fantastic retirement in good health, surrounded by your loved ones—Leita, Cathy and your grandchildren. I personally thank you for all your guidance, for transferring to me your great love of this nation and the National Party and your belief in a just and fair Australia, where people, no matter their colour or race, can enjoy the fruits of this country. Your legacy will endure in this parliament and beyond.