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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5770

Senator MINCHIN (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (3:39 PM) —I rise to support the motion moved by Senator Evans in relation to a senator I had the pleasure of knowing. As Senator Evans has described, Dr Sheil could rightly be described as having had a colourful career in the Australian Senate as a representative of, first, the Country Party and then the National Party for his adopted state of Queensland. He had a background as both a rabbit farmer and a medical practitioner before entering the Senate. As you can see from the body of evidence, he was often in the headlines during his two terms in this place. As Senator Evans has outlined, he had a very keen interest in sport. He represented his own state in several sports, which is a remarkable feat.

As Senator Evans also said, it was Senator Sheil’s professional career in health which brought him to put his hand up for federal parliament. As Senator Sheil described it, ‘the fiery fingers of the federal government coming between him and his patients’ was enough to motivate him to seek federal office. He first came into this place in 1974 and then again in 1975. Indeed, his original election in 1974 was remarkable given that he was No. 6 on the joint Liberal Party-Country Party ticket for that double dissolution election. At that time, there were only 10 senators per state. It was a remarkable result for the Liberal and Country parties and led to Glen Sheil winning a seat in this chamber. He actually tendered his resignation in 1981, as I understand it, to contest the Gold Coast seat of McPherson for his party. Fortunately, from the point of view of my party, he was unsuccessful, because that seat was held by the Liberal Party. That brought none other than Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen into this place when she filled his casual vacancy.

Senator Sheil came back into this place in 1984. I imagine there are very few senators who have resigned from the Senate and then been successfully re-elected. That must put him in the history books. That means that, at least, Ron Boswell and Julian McGauran, on our side of this chamber, would have had the pleasure of serving with Glen. He was an active committee participant in his time in the Senate in a range of portfolios. He was also party whip for the Country and National parties in the Senate on three occasions during his two stints in the Senate.

As has been mentioned, Senator Sheil was most famous for his brief appointment to the Executive Council in 1977. As a then very junior research officer at the federal secretariat of the Liberal Party, I well remember the ecstasy of winning in 1977 followed by the drama of losing a minister before he had even been sworn in. Indeed, today in the media section of the Australian, which is now compulsory reading for me in my new role, my good friend Nikki Savva has reminded us all that it was she who, in trying to dig up a story on the new ministry, rang Glen Sheil and asked him, with great friendliness and joy, about his views on some controversial issues. As Nikki has said today, his career ended after three short sentences. As Nikki would put it—and she is of Greek origin—the moral of the story is: beware of friendly journalists bearing gifts! One must be extremely careful of being sucked in by overly friendly journalists—and Nikki was very good at it. Glen, to his credit, said exactly what he thought on the issue of apartheid but, having been published and given great prominence by Nikki’s then newspaper, that meant Malcolm Fraser was in a position where he could not proceed to appoint Glen to the ministry. I guess that compares to the recent case of a New South Wales Labor minister who, I think, lasted some three or four hours in his role.

Two years after nearly being sworn in as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Glen Sheil said that he would very much have liked to have been Minister for Veterans’ Affairs but that he suffered ‘death by the media’ and his comments on apartheid were misrepresented. I am not sure that he was misrepresented. I think he stated exactly what he felt. It is to his credit that he was very upfront in what he felt and in what he believed. He never did shy away from very strongly held views. He was very active in this parliament in trying to give force to his views and to alter policy to reflect his view of the world.

It is very unusual in the National and Country parties, but in 1989 he did cross the floor to vote against the Hawke and Keating government’s deregulation of the domestic wheat industry—although that was supported by the then opposition. As Senator Evans noted, Glen’s first wife, Marjorie, died from breast cancer in 1989 at the relatively tender age of 58. They had been married for many, many years. He was very active in his life after politics, going back to his first love of medicine. Then, in 1998—again as Senator Evans mentioned—Senator Sheil was a Queensland delegate to the Howard government’s Constitutional Convention, representing the Constitutional Monarchists group in Queensland. I was the minister responsible for organising that convention, and I am a Constitutional Monarchist myself, so I well remember Glen’s presence and his great contribution to the success of the convention.

On behalf of the coalition I place on record our great appreciation of Glen’s public service and of our acknowledgement of the great honesty and energy that he brought to his role. We tender our profound sympathy to his wife, Elizabeth, in her bereavement.