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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1190


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (19:22): Mitch, tonight we heard the type of thoughtfulness, perspective, calm, dignity and good humour that has made you a valued friend and colleague to so many across this place—so many, indeed, as you said, over the last 15 years—but particularly to your colleagues here and to those of us who have had the great pleasure of serving with you for so much of those 15 years.

As you reflected, I took my first steps into this place through those doors over there with you standing on one side of me and with Senator Payne standing on the other side. Two greater colleagues I could not have chosen. Great friends to start with and throughout.

As you also noted, we've had our ups and downs while we have been in here as we have dealt with the political travails of what has been a tumultuous time in this place. But we've found the importance of what, I think, we dubbed 'public coffee'. I can recall on one of those occasions when we were voting for opposite leaders in the Liberal party room—something that happened more times than I would have liked—we decided the best way to make sure that the world knew that we could overcome such things; we went and plonked ourselves down at Aussie's and had a cup of coffee together. We made sure that those difficulties could be put behind us, that we could keep working together and that others knew that as well. Of course, that's part of the calm dignity and sense of perspective that you have brought to all of your roles, including the way in which you work with each of us.

We've also had the oddity of job switching in this place—that is, as you became the deputy leader I became the manager, and as I became the deputy leader you returned to being the manager. But, again, we managed to make sure that in all of those changes it was about the sense of cooperation, calm and working with one another to get the best possible outcomes for the team, for the government and, ultimately, for the country. That is what you have sought to do with such distinction through your portfolios.

You have rightly reflected on an amazing and incredible contribution to the NDIS and its establishment. In your time as the shadow minister, I can well recall you privately chatting to us as the Productivity Commission was doing its work. They had handed down their draft report about the potential need for a national insurance scheme. As you were grappling with that portfolio and thinking about where to take it, you would privately say to many of us that you thought this was a direction the country had to go in and a direction that the coalition had to embrace. It's to your credit that you managed to make sure that, at the time, that support was there in the leadership of our party and across the parliamentary ranks of the coalition. Many thousands of Australian families and many millions of lives will be improved over the years to come thanks to that work on the NDIS that you and so many others, whom you generously acknowledged, led.

I also know that, when it came to the step-up to cabinet after Malcolm Turnbull became the Prime Minister, there was a bit of a toss-up between the last couple of cabinet appointments—who would be the education minister and who would be the communications minister? I understand Senator Sinodinos may be able to shed more light on this than I. I'm not sure that either of us got to choose, but we landed in our respective roles. Whether the nation's schools would rather have had Mitch Fifield, who knows? Perhaps they would have. But you went on in communications to achieve the landmark reform in relation to media ownership, and we congratulate you so much for that.

In the arts role, I remain disappointed that you missed the opportunity that your calling laid out to embed karaoke across Australia as a firm part of our national culture! Perhaps, as education minister, you could have embedded it into the curriculum instead. However, I can recall that with Senator Pratt and others we found ourselves at a karaoke bar in Kyoto, Japan, once formalities were done. Indeed, I just leant across to Marise before and said, 'What was the name of that upstairs karaoke joint in Kingston that went out of business many years ago?'

Senator Fifield: Bogarts.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Bogarts! Marise said Graphix.

Senator Fifield: It was Graphix before.

Senator BIRMINGHAM: That's right. Both, indeed, are correct, depending on the vintage that we reflect on. Many great times were had. Unfortunately, they went out of business, no doubt thanks to the heavy load of ministerial office and our inability to duck out to Bogarts, or Graphix, as often as perhaps we did in past lives. You've always been such great fun. But when the fun ended, you were back there getting on with the job. We know that's what you'll do in New York. Whilst my portfolio means I look to Geneva a little more than New York, the nation will look to you to represent us ably and admirably, and we have no doubt you will do so. Thanks for your friendship. Thanks for being such a great colleague. We look forward to working closely with you in a different role for many years to come.