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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1480


Senator PATTERSON (1:20 PM) —I rise to support the motion put forward by Senator Evans. It is ‘not quite cricket’ that Robert is not here to hear what we have to say, but that was his style. I was not surprised when I woke to hear the news that he had decided to leave and not wait around with the rest of us who will be leaving in a few weeks time. Robert was seen as the hard man of politics, and I know that many ministers were in fear and trepidation when he used to appear at estimates. But he was also a fair parliamentarian. There are not many people who can blend the requirement in this place to be a tough politician and a fair parliamentarian. Some people go too far on the side of the tough politician. But, as some people have said today, in his role as a parliamentarian and on the procedures and privileges committees, Robert respected this place. He did not have regard for people who did not respect the Senate. He railed against hypocrisy, he railed against hubris and he railed against people who abused the system. Anybody who abused the system, either by having their snouts in the trough or by misusing the system, rightly attracted the ire of Robert Ray.

As was said earlier by Senator Evans, Robert Ray might have been the hard man of politics and he might have played it hard, but he also played it fair. I remember when my mother was terminally ill. I drove to Tuross Head, where she lived, to look after her for a weekend. It was one of those middle weekends. My mother became acutely ill and I could not get back. At that stage I had two Comcars: one in my home state and one which I had for the weekend. Then senator Sue Knowles contacted the responsible minister to see if there was a way that we could overcome this, and got no joy at all. She went to Robert and he organised for the car in Melbourne to be put back into the pool and the car in Tuross became my Commonwealth car until my mother died. On the day my secretary drove the car from Melbourne up to Tuross, I signed a statutory declaration to say that the car in Tuross would not be used. This was all orchestrated by Robert Ray to ensure that I was not in breach of my entitlements by having two cars. Robert went out of his way to do that and I never forgot it.

Robert’s guiding principle was trust. It is something I remembered when I was in government and a minister. He always used to say this when I thanked him profusely for what he had done to get me out of the situation, because I was in a bit of a pickle and the then minister did not seem to be of a mind to assist me. During estimates one day he asked a question as to whether I had done something and I said no. He did not persist because he knew that he could trust my word. I trusted Robert as well and I think somebody else has talked about that today. If Robert made an agreement, then he would stand by it.

The other advice Robert gave when he was in government was, ‘One day you will be in opposition.’ It is the best piece of advice anybody in government can take because sometimes something you think is very smart does not look so good from opposition. He also used to have the quid pro pro view that what is good in opposition is also good for the new opposition. I remember that we did not let parliamentary secretaries answer questions. Robert made us sit in estimates committees as ministers for hours on end because we could not have a parliamentary secretary. He made us wait for as long as we had made the Labor Party wait. As I said, what was good for the goose was good for the gander, both in opposition and in government. I think it is a lesson we should all remember and learn from.

I saw Robert as a tough politician but a very fair parliamentarian. As I said, when I was in a bit of strife, he found a legitimate way out of that for me as a government minister. He took the time to help me and I will never forget that. He also gave me some advice when the planes ran late on a Friday. Everybody ran around like chooks with their heads cut off, saying, ‘I’m late for a meeting. I’m late for a meeting.’ He used to say, ‘Kay, it’s better to say you can’t come than to get there late.’ He said, ‘If you’re not at this function, I won’t be there either so we’ll pair each other off.’ That was his advice to me when we used to sit till late on Friday nights.

I have respected Robert as a person on the other side and I also respect him as an individual and a human being. He showed his humanity in the situation that I was stuck in. I want to wish him and Jane all the best for the future. I am sure it will be full of lots of films, cricket and football, and I am sure he will find a niche for himself as well in doing something in the community. I am sorry I cannot say this to Robert firsthand, but hopefully he might have time at some later stage to actually read the Hansard, if he can be bothered, and know that he was respected on both sides of this house. His going is a great loss in lots of ways to the process of this Senate and the process of parliament.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Forshaw)—Senator Collins, congratulations on your election and your appointment.