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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1207


Senator PATERSON (Victoria) (20:40): I rise to make some valedictory remarks about my friend, my mentor and my colleague Senator Mitch Fifield. Neither he or I could have known when, at age 19 as a precocious university student, I wandered into his office for my first day of my first real job that one day we would be colleagues here in this place. As Mitch talked about in his speech already tonight, my wife also worked for him at a different time—I stress, not at the same time; there was no interoffice romance. Given that you're in the camera shot, Mitch, please don't nod too vigorously when I say this, but I suspect she was a better staffer for you than I ever was. In fact, I say that with confidence, because once in this place Mitch gave me what a HR consultant would call a '360 degree review' of my performance at pace while walking down the corridor.

In politics sometimes we ask our staff to do menial things, but one menial task that I performed for Mitch had much wider significance; I delivered his resignation letter to the then Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, from the Liberal Party frontbench in 2009. I was later to issue the joint media release between himself, Senator Cormann and former Senator Brett Mason announcing that resignation from the frontbench. The year 2009 was a very significant year in Liberal Party history, and personally a very formative year for me. I think it's safe to say it shaped my views about politics and the Liberal Party, and they have stayed with me ever since.

Senator Fifield, Senator Cormann and former Senator Mason were the first three members of the then shadow ministry to resign over a point of principle, which was the opposition leader's plan to support Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme. When they did so they had no idea how events would flow from there. It's easy, with the benefit of hindsight and history, to look back at that time and say that they were on the right side of history and made the right call, because they were soon joined by many other colleagues who resigned from the frontbench. Ultimately, the party's position on that issue changed and, indeed, the leader changed. But there was no guarantee that that was going to be the case at that time. I think they showed remarkable courage and foresight, as three young, ambitious and up-and-coming frontbenchers who had only recently got their first stints on the frontbench, to put all that at risk on a point of principle. At the time they crossed the floor and voted against Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme time and time again on a very historic day in the Senate. For that courage, I think the Liberal Party owes those three particular senators a great debt of gratitude, because, I believe, history would be very different if Mitch, Mathias and Brett did not take the stand they did at that time. It was an honour to work for Mitch while he did that and to observe the courage he showed under such immense pressure.

It was another of Mitch's achievements, though, that I appreciated on an even more personal level as a university student. In my first year of university, the old system of compulsory student unionism was still in place. At the University of Melbourne, in my first year, I paid a $450 compulsory fee to be a member of the student union, against my will, and it then took that money and spent it in a way that was against my values. In subsequent years, after Mitch and others successfully legislated VSU, the fee, no longer being compulsory, miraculously dropped to $100. It's amazing what the absence of compulsion—and the incentives that gives to an institution—can do. Sadly, as Mitch already noted in his contribution tonight, with the election of the Rudd government, that policy of voluntary student unionism was abolished and a form of compulsory student unionism was reintroduced, with a new fee, to be capped at $250, and in my final year of university I was forced to pay that capped $250 fee—again, no surprise that the union sought to take as much as it could from students. It remains a matter of unresolved, unfinished business of this parliament that I hope we return to, so we can return to those glory days that Mitch and others helped achieve.

Mitch is going on to greater things at the UN, and I want to set out a KPI that I've given to him privately. He is of course going to be Australia's version of Nikki Haley at the UN, and so I expect to see from him a number of sassy pro-Israel speeches at the UN that quickly go viral on social media and across cable news in the United States and around the world! I have great confidence that Australia's values will be ably and forthrightly represented by Senator Fifield over there in New York.

Mitch, thank you for your support of me and for your friendship. Thank you for your service to our great home state of Victoria. Thank you for your service to our wonderful Liberal Party. You leave a great legacy of which you and your family can be very proud, and I feel very honoured to have had this brief time overlapping with yours here in this place.

Senate adjourned at 20:45