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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1188


Senator McKENZIE (VictoriaMinister for Agriculture and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (19:13): I rise as Leader of the Nationals in the Senate to pay respect to Senator Fifield, his contribution to parliament, his contribution to rural and regional Australia and, indeed, his contribution to our home state of Victoria. He's had a long and distinguished career in this place, and others have made great reflection on that. He's represented our great state of Victoria for 15 years, with more than five years as minister and three in cabinet. I don't think Mitch would stand here today and profess a great depth of knowledge and affinity per se with rural and regional Australia, but his portfolio positions have contributed immensely to the growth and development, the security and safety, and the education and health outcomes of rural and regional Australia. I want to thank him very, very much for that, particularly in his role as communications minister.

He made mention in his speech that one of the great things he recalls over his 15 years is being able to make a difference from the backbench. Mitch was the minister that allowed me to make a difference from the backbench too, with the changes to the ABC around rural and regional positions on the board, ensuring greater accountability of service provision and changes to the charter. So, thank you, Mitch. It's true that the Senate is the chamber that can allow senators to make a difference, no matter where they sit.

Together we also delivered a $220 million Stronger Regional Digital Connectivity Package, which brings our government's total commitment to over 1,000 new base stations. I know, during this parliament, other ministers will be rolling out the work that Mitch and I were able to get through the last budget. I want to thank you for that support, also for rural and regional communities—the difference it will make in their lives.

We inherited a bit of a mess with the NBN, and, Mitch, you've played a significant role in what's been quite a remarkable turnaround story. You were there for the launch of the NBN's Sky Muster satellite service, which has been a significant improvement on our previous satellite services, to be available across the country.

I've always enjoyed sharing the Senate chamber with another eighties music tragic. You're not only okay to dance with but you're okay to sing with too. I'm reliably informed that Mitch's singing proficiency has led to him being affectionately known as 'Mitch with the perfect pitch'. And I think many senators on this side of the chamber will definitely miss the countless late-night sitting parties held out here in our coalition room, where there was a certain DJ, with a certain mix, that had to fight Senator Parry sometimes for use of the speaker. But really, Mitch, that was a great mechanism for developing a team and keeping our spirits high. As a coalition we've really come to the fore on that.

He does have an affinity, though. He was quoted as saying he has a particular fondness for north-east Victoria, where I grew up, having lived for a time on a farm at Ghin Ghin near Yea. Well done! Good. See? It is there. We searched high and wide for reference to the regions. I think one other issue that Mitch and I, and the National Party, have always appreciated is the importance of having a strong coalition and the need to have a strong National Party and a strong separate but loving Liberal Party, in terms of delivering for our communities and for our state. We've been in furious agreement with that, so thank you for your support always.

After the rush has gone, I hope you find a little more time. Oh, he's thinking! Always believe in your soul. You've got the power to know. You're indestructible. All the best from the National Party, Mitch.