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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1474

Senator MINCHIN (12:48 PM) —I rise to support Senator Evans’s motion. First, I join Senator Evans in welcoming Senator Jacinta Collins back to this chamber. It is good to have you back, Senator Collins. Those of us of a socially conservative disposition are particularly welcoming of your presence here.

On behalf of the federal coalition senators, I want to record our congratulations to former Senator Robert Ray on a magnificent career in the Senate. As Senator Evans said, 27 years is a very long time to spend in this chamber. It is half of my life currently, and it is almost half of Robert’s. As Senator Evans said, of current senators, Senator Watson is the only one who has served a longer term and, regrettably, we are also losing Senator Watson in six weeks time.

Obviously, Robert gained an extraordinary wealth of knowledge and experience during his long service in the Senate and therefore his retirement represents a huge loss to this chamber, and one that is felt across the chamber. He was a great asset to our political opponents, the Australian Labor Party. As Senator Evans said, he is obviously a real party man and not someone who was just on the coat-tails of a political party as a way of getting his bottom on a Senate seat. Robert was and remains, I am sure, a very loyal, dedicated servant of his political cause, and for that we respect him.

Senator Ray was, in his Senate career, respected and admired across the political spectrum, and most particularly on our side. He was, as has been said, feared on his own side, but we regarded him as a formidable political opponent. As a minister for some 10 years in the former government, I actually looked forward to my clashes with Senator Ray in Senate estimates. I knew I had a day in which the adrenaline would run, I would be stimulated and there would be no risk of falling asleep. I am not sure that all my former ministerial colleagues looked forward to their clashes with Senator Ray quite as much, but we certainly knew we had to be on our toes to face Senator Ray at Senate estimates. I think he has shown all of us the way in which Senate estimates can be used properly and effectively. One thing I did respect about him in relation to Senate estimates was that, unlike some of his Labor colleagues, he had great respect for and showed civility towards public servants. The thing I did dislike as a minister was that—rarely, fortunately, but occasionally—some senators were quite intemperate with public servants. Robert was never guilty of that and treated all public servants with the respect which I think is a model for the rest of us.

As Senator Evans said, while Robert was a formidable politician, he was a man of integrity. You did know that, with Robert, his word was his bond. I certainly experienced that. Tony Harris, the former New South Wales Auditor-General, noted in the Financial Review today in referring to former Senator Ray:

... those who have worked closely with him commend him for his impeccable, principled and ethical behaviour.

I would certainly second that reference to, and acknowledgement of, his character. As Senator Evans said, he had a very distinguished ministerial career. We regarded him, and continue to regard him, as one of the real strengths of the Hawke and Keating governments. We readily acknowledge that the Hawke and Keating governments, while weak in some areas, certainly did happen to assemble quite a formidable array of Senate ministers. Indeed, we will be referring in due course this afternoon to another great Labor Senate minister. Unfortunately, in that context it will be a condolence. I refer of course to John Button. Fortunately, Robert Ray, I am sure, has many healthy years ahead of him. He was one of the real strengths of the former Hawke and Keating governments.

Knowing Robert a little, it is not surprising to me that he has chosen to leave in the manner that he has, without any fuss or fanfare. Not for him the long, drawn-out departure but up and off. I hope he really enjoys the West Indies tour.

Senator Faulkner —He certainly enjoyed the last one.

Senator MINCHIN —Tell us more! We are all ears, Senator Faulkner. On a more serious note, I note his parting message to the Labor Party, which I think applies across the board. I particularly note his message to the Labor Party about the importance of widening the ALP gene pool beyond union and party officials. I say as a former party official that party officials are a very important part of the political process and all parties should have a quota of party officials—

Senator Chris Evans —Those who do not have access to blog sites.

Senator MINCHIN —Particularly those who know nothing about blogs, like me. But I do think he makes a fair point. I have always thought that, objectively speaking, the Labor Party’s future lies in breaking its ties with the trade union movement. I think Labor would be a healthier social democratic party for breaking those ties. I think the Labor Party suffers from the perception that it is a retirement home for former trade union officials. I think that is the point that Robert was getting at—that it is important for both major parties to ensure that they have a wide gene pool of talent available to them. It is a message that applies as much to us as to the Labor Party. I hope that his parting remarks are taken seriously. In closing, on behalf of coalition senators I want to congratulate Robert on a magnificent Senate career. We wish him and his family a very long and very happy post-parliamentary life.