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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7978


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government and Territories and Minister for Regional Communications) (19:20): I rise tonight to pay tribute to a remarkable Australian, Graham 'Butch' Lenton, who, very sadly, passed away recently after a rather lengthy battle with cancer.

Butch Lenton was the mayor of Winton, which is how I met him a couple of years ago. He really was the most extraordinary community-minded man I think I've ever met. He lived in the town of Winton, lived all his life there, was born there, was raised there, went to school there, got married there, worked there, represented his community there and died there in this wonderful little town of about 800 people in Queensland. I first met Butch a couple of years ago. I was heading up to Winton to do a visit to the Royal Flying Doctor Service dental operation that was happening out there. I can still remember. Butch picked me up at the airport and he was larger than life. Butch was terrific. I got off the plane and met this man I hadn't met before, and we just clicked. From that point on, we got on very, very well.

The first day I was with Butch, he was driving me around his community, as all good mayors do. As it turned out, I ended up quite late for the function I was supposed to be there for, because Butch was showing me his town. He was showing me his community. It was fantastic. I loved every minute of it. He showed me everything in his town. I mean everything—absolutely everything! I think we even went to the tip. But it just—

Senator Gallacher: You always go to the tip!

Senator NASH: I will take that interjection; thank you, Senator Gallacher. Always go to the tip! It really showed how proud Butch was of his community, his people and everything in it. We went down to the racecourse—I think he was testing out the new minister—and of course it's a dirt track and he was trying to tell me that they would have it turfed by race day. I did manage to point out to him pretty quickly I wasn't falling for that one. He was a terrific fellow. It was the start of a long—over the last couple of years—relationship with Butch, who was such a wonderful member of his local community.

I ended up going back a year later to do a number of things there, one of which was to go with Butch and inspect a proposed dam site. As we were going out to this proposed dam site—there had been a bit of rain, after a long period of drought—we were heading out on a road, which turned into a dirt road, which then turned into a track, which turned into a piece of land where the track disappeared altogether and we were just driving across this random piece of grassed area. There was no track and nothing at all. Butch knew exactly where he was going. It didn't matter that there wasn't a road. We pulled up on the edge of this escarpment. We looked out across this massive, massive area, and he was standing there talking to me about his vision for this dam and what it was going to do for the region and what it was going to do for the people who lived there. Again, he just struck me as a remarkable man that had such a vision for the future of his community and his region. As we were standing there, it just really made me think that he encapsulated everything that we look for in leaders, particularly in our regional communities. As we were driving back—as I said, it had been raining—it was also a chance to witness the most remarkable piece of driving I have ever seen in my life. I don't know how we didn't get bogged. His ability to drive through that very, very wet piece of land was quite extraordinary.

We went back not long after. When I was first there, in 2015, the Waltzing Matilda Centre, which was there in the community, had burnt down—and it was absolutely devastating for the community. At the time, Butch said, 'It was, unfortunately, a bit of a kick in the guts, but we'll tough it out and keep going with it.' That was such an example of him being so relentlessly positive in the face of adversity. Every time some difficulty came up, every time some challenge came in front of that community, Butch was always so positive and so determined just to make things right. He was a true leader. He ending up being absolutely pivotal in making sure that the Waltzing Matilda Centre would be rebuilt, which it now is. It will be concluded, I think, in March or April next year. A $22 million rebuild is being done of this fabulous centre, $8 million of which came from funding from the coalition government. If it hadn't been for Butch and his work in making sure that that funding became a reality, it would never have happened.

When I was there in this wonderful little community at the end of 2016, with the Prime Minister, talking about the $8 million that was going towards this community centre, I thought: 'This is what really matters about being in government. This is about working in partnership with rural communities and working with local leaders to make sure that these rural communities have the best future they possibly can have.' That was Butch to a T. His whole life was about his family: his wife, Ros, and his daughter, Carly—my heart goes out to you and all of the family. It was such an embodiment of everything that he did and strove for to make his community a better place.

The funeral, just recently, was such a testament to this man. There were over 1,000 people there. The tributes that have been pouring through for him since he passed away have been nothing short of amazing—and very fitting. It's not surprising that so many people held him in such high regard, because, as I keep saying, he truly was an extraordinary man.

I was in Winton in June to do a number of things, and I went to the local show. Butch, while being quite unwell, was still so incredibly positive. It was never about him. I think that's one of the lessons we really learn from people like Butch—when you love your community, when you put your community first and when things are not about you but about the people around you and what you can do for them. I think it is a really good lesson to all of us in this place, on all sides of both chambers, to make sure that we continue to put our communities first in the same way that Butch Lenton did. There are not too many people in this world who really get to leave their footprints on the planet, and Butch will be one of those people who actually did that. He was so positive. He was a true leader. He really made sure that every day counted and he was always looking to the next thing. He was always thinking: 'What can we do next? What is the next great thing we can do?'

This tiny little town of Winton, of 800 people, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, is absolutely thriving, and so much of that is due to the fact that Butch Lenton cared so much about that community and invested so much of his life into making sure it was as good as it could possibly be, and that it would be going into the future. He was always looking to the future. The leadership that he showed was just extraordinary. He always had a smile. He was always thinking about the people around him. Being there at the funeral and seeing all of these people from all walks of life turn up and pay their respects to Butch, it was just so fitting. Somebody made the comment that day that he could walk and talk with anybody. He dealt with politicians from all walks of life, from Commonwealth, state and local government, and Butch just treated everybody the same. He was incredibly respectful and he managed to make sure that everybody who needed to know what was important to Winton knew it and that they knew how important it was to him. He made sure that the people who needed to know about everything Winton needed for the future knew about it.

Butch will be a tremendous loss. He will leave enormous shoes to fill. As I said, he walked this planet and he's going to leave such a mark behind him of all the wonderful things that he's done. To Ros and to Carly and to all of the family: he made such a difference. He changed people's lives. He changed the future of that community. He changed the future of that region. There are not very many people who get to say that they've done that. I say thanks to Butch for everything he has done. He will be always remembered. He came into my life a couple of years ago as the mayor, but he left it as a very good friend.