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Thursday, 27 May 1993
Page: 1606


Senator O'CHEE (12.48 a.m.) —Due to the late hour I do not wish to say much. I will restrict my comments to colleagues who are in the chamber. Of my four retiring coalition colleagues I would like to say that they are all good and decent people, and I think that is one of the finest things one can say about anybody. Each of them is a person that we have been able to look up to and respect, and who has always shown a lead that is dignified and that is right. Each of them displayed these qualities, and they did it very well. I will remember each of them in their own particular way.

  I want to say a few words about Senator Florence; the woman I refer to as my grandmother. When I came into the chamber I was sitting next to Julian McGauran who had this particular seat here. Somebody made a comment that we were Ernie and Bert. Senator Boswell was in front and Senator Bjelke-Petersen was at the back with Senator Sheil. It was like three generations of the National party, with dad down the front, the kids in the middle and the grand folks up the back. Senator Sheil, who was an old boy of my old school, the Southport school, left soon after and that just left grandmother. It has been a great privilege and a great pleasure to serve with Senator Florence.

  I want to tell honourable senators about the human side of this lady, because she has an immense capacity not just to relate to people but to remember them; and honourable senators know how difficult that is. I thought that maybe it was as a result of all those years as a Premier's wife that she knew everybody in Queensland, but about two or three years ago I took my mother's former primary school headmistress, a Catholic nun, Sister Juliana, up to dinner in the dining room because she was coming back from a retreat. As we walked in, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Senator Bjelke-Petersen was sitting with Glen Sheil, Bruce Scott and Bruce Cowan in the members and guests dining room.

  As we went out, I noticed that they were still there. I said to Sister Juliana, `Would you like to meet Senator Flo?'. She said, `Oh, yes, please'. So I took her over and introduced her to Glen Sheil, Bruce Scott, Bruce Cowan and Senator Flo. Senator Flo turned to her and said, `Now, what order are you with, Sister?'. Sister Juliana told her. She then asked, `What convent are you at?'. She named a convent in Sydney. Senator Flo then proceeded to say, `Well, you would know Sister So-and-so and Sister So-and-so'—and at that point I gave up. I knew there was no way I could ever compete with Senator Bjelke-Petersen's prodigious memory for people and her capacity not just to talk to people and to relate to them but to memorise what they had to say and to really take note.

  I think what has made her a great woman and such a respected figure is that she had a humanity that touched everybody who met her. Florence: the more we had to do with each other, the more and more I grew to respect you. I am immensely fond of all the work that you have done. I think you are going to enjoy your retirement immensely. I know you are looking forward to being with your children and grandchildren. They have not just a grandfather but a grandmother whom they can really respect.

  I have realised tonight that for over half of the time that Australia has been a federation it has had a Bjelke-Petersen fighting for Queensland. Florence, you have never let us down, and I do not think anybody would ever say that you have done that at all.