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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 10754


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaMinister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) (19:13): I rise on behalf of the government to pay tribute to Senators Scullion, Moore and Cameron for their service in the Australian Senate and to the Australian people. You hear sometimes, when people reflect upon politics, that they believe that politics and service in this place changes people. Of course, in some ways it has to—it has to change us in terms of enhancing our outlook, expanding our knowledge, and broadening and enriching our experience. But, equally, this evening the Australian Senate farewells three characters, three genuine individuals, who, I think, each leave with their core essential characteristics firmly in place, just as they entered this place with.

Nigel, your grounded authenticity is something that we all love so deeply. To the bloke from the bush, who is as much the bloke from the bush here in Canberra as he is up in the Territory or anywhere else around the country, and fisher from the north, who I think in his approach has always brought to bear that old proverb that it's better to teach someone how to fish than just to give them the fish—mate, we will miss you so much. You have much to be proud of—just by being here, to start with. Your background—indeed not unlike many in this place and not unlike those others we farewell tonight—is a background that we would not necessarily have expected to see come to this Australian Senate. You had a nomadic childhood in many ways, in terms of the places you lived. You found yourself making the Territory your home and working across mining, maritime salvage, security and engineering. Most notably, you worked as a fisherman, establishing your own fishing business, serving as chairman of the Australian Seafood Industry Council and coming to represent the Territory but also the fishers of Australia most fiercely.

You've been a fierce advocate for the Territory for those from your background, but also, of course, for First Australians—First Australians, first and foremost, right throughout. If anyone had any doubt about Nigel's affection for his home territory, you need only read his first speech, speaking of its natural beauty but also of the depth of its ancient heritage and the calling of its people.

Nigel, you reflected on your service as a minister in the Howard government and in a range of shadow portfolios. But it's been in the period since 2013 where we and many across the nation have been able to see the full force of your energy and conviction on display as the Minister for Indigenous Affairs. It's notable and it's to your credit. You are one of the few people in our government who has carried the same singular portfolio right throughout the time of our government and of your service within it. It's a testament to your deep understanding of the complexities, opportunities and moral significance. As you rightly said, being a standalone Minister for Indigenous Affairs in the cabinet afforded the issues the attention they rightly deserve.

Your relationship with our First Peoples predates this time in the Senate well and truly. As well as being with your fellow Territorians—your neighbours—you spent years living off the sprawling coast of Arnhem Land. You know their work and they know your work and the connections that are there. You matched your personal concerns with the practicality for tangible improvements over the last nearly six years. In particular, our government is so proud of the Indigenous Procurement Policy, which you have driven and championed and which has seen Indigenous businesses win Commonwealth contracts, creating jobs and opportunities across the nation and ensuring those jobs and opportunities are generating ownership, opportunities and greater prosperity for their Indigenous owners.

Your personal experience has driven you to ensure that you focus on other priorities, such as the Community Development Program, which has remote Australian communities at its heart and has helped remote jobseekers find over 37,000 opportunities for employment, many of which have translated into long-term, gainful employment opportunities. You've been instrumental in driving the Indigenous Advancement Strategy used so effectively to deliver support programs to the areas of greatest need. You have been a constant champion for the Indigenous rangers initiative, empowering Indigenous communities to protect the natural wonders of our nation and of their culture and heritage.

In recent times, you worked to secure the historic Closing the Gap partnership, a landmark agreement that will revolutionise the practical working relationships that exist between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and governments at both state and federal level, taking the Closing the Gap agenda, rightly, to the next level and its next place. Upon entering this place, you were one of the first to admit that many of the issues our nation faces in Closing the Gap are complex. They've been there throughout our modern history and will be there long into the future, but you can be proud of the fact you have made a focused, determined and, in many ways, successful effort to make crucial progress in terms of the lives of First Australians.

Away from the ministry, we commend you, Nigel, for having served in National Party leadership roles in the Senate chamber for many years, including as its Senate leader since October 2015. Few can truly appreciate just what a challenge it can be to lead the National Party, particularly the National Party in the Senate. Those of us who sit amongst the leadership group with you and have had that honour get rare glimpses and insights, but, of course, to be able to bring together the different perspectives of the Nats is one of life's great tests, and you have always been there rising to that occasion. As a dedicated Country Liberal, you've always fought hard for your party's cause in the Territory, and whilst here you stand proudly as a Nat, we know that you stand uniquely as a Country Liberal. For many of us Libs, you're a Nat who we always wanted. We'd have happily traded you in to the Liberal party room at any time and place, happily had you and seized you.

Senator Fifield: Who would we have traded him for?

Senator BIRMINGHAM: That is too rich an invitation, Senator Fifield—far too rich an invitation for me! And particularly because I was going to observe that, on those rare occasions of certain free votes and deliberations on issues of values in this place, where sometimes I find myself voting against quite a number of my colleagues on some of those issues, Nige, you were frequently one of the ones I'd find sitting close to me, making sure that, though we might have been small in number, we made sure that the views and values we held dear were made clear.

I know that all on our side, particularly all coalition staff, will be looking upon your departure with one clear question: mango daiquiris—who's going to make the mango daiquiris in future? Who's going to be responsible for that key tradition that ensures the coalition staff Christmas party can, to some extent, live up to the wonders of the National Party Christmas party? It is well known. So, obviously, we expect you back with mango daiquiris!

Mate, your contribution over 17 years has been something that we have enjoyed and that you should be proud of. You've previously noted 'that the hopes and dreams of First Australians reflect those of all Australians'. How right you are. You can retire knowing that, through your dedication and work, those hopes and dreams are somewhat closer. And the work for all of us in this place is to continue to make sure that we deliver on that passion and vision that you've demonstrated.

We're going to miss your good nature, your good humour, the knowledge that you're somebody who any of us, I think, would feel comfortable reaching out to at any time in terms of our lives and in any circumstances. The fact that you've been so successful at befriending people right across this chamber, and especially some of those on the crossbench from time to time—the orphans of the chamber who come in here as Independents—is a testament to the way in which you reach out.

As you leave this place, we wish you, your wife, Carol, your three children, all of your loved ones, the very best for the future. In your first speech in this place, you invited all of your colleagues to visit the Territory and take home a slice of paradise. Well, you're getting to go back to paradise. I can assure you that many of us are going to come and make sure that we haunt you in your paradise, that we visit you there, that we make sure that, whether it is the barramundi or the wild pigs of the Top End that need to watch out once Nige is back, we'll also be there to make sure we get one of those rich Nigel experiences. Mate, thank you for your service.

Can I turn to Senator Moore. Claire, thank you also for the service you've brought—a real true Queenslander—to this place. I think most importantly it's the care, the compassion and the considered approach that stand out. Many who dislike the combat of politics would, if they had the chance to look around here, look at Claire Moore and think that you are the type of politician they want to see. I can't think of a time that I've served in this place with you where I've heard you say an ill word of anybody. You've always been thoughtful, careful and considered in the approach that you have brought to bear.

You spoke of your background, your lifelong time in public service. But, over 17 years here, that public service has allowed you to contribute in so many different ways. Your service on Senate committees is, I think, something that all will remember. I have to say: if I think of things I might regret at moments like this, it's that I never had a lot of time serving in Senate committees with you, Claire. But, in your contribution, when you spoke about the committee work on gynaecological cancer, I did reflect, of course, that I fill Jeannie Ferris's vacancy in this place. Just a couple of months ago I held, as I do each year, a large 'morning teal' in Adelaide acknowledging Jeannie and her work. But at that time we were talking about the work of the Senate committee on gynaecological cancers. I know the role you played in the thought leadership there and the fact that, with senators like you, people feel more able to open up and share their soul and their problems than they're necessarily always able to do. But I also know that you were a great rock of support for Jeannie during that time, as you have been for many.

I think of greatest note, in terms of your service here, is your time as chair of the community affairs committee. Many would see your time in the Senate as being synonymous with the work of the community affairs committee, but also, importantly, as you highlighted, the Parliamentary Group on Population and Development, as well as your consistent work in the AIDS space.

You reflected upon the jingle-jangle in the chamber at times. Indeed, I think the Senate will miss your decorative flair—you raised it, so I feel that I can go there!—so well displayed not only in the chamber but also, notably, in your senatorial office. Packing up will be quite a task, I imagine.

On behalf of the government, I want to commend you for the clarity of your convictions. You will leave here, I know, for a life pursuing many of your different passions and hobbies, from cricket to Irish folk music and beyond, and with the opportunity to find many a quality detective fiction novel, I'm sure. But you leave a place and a chamber that will miss the way in which you approach debates. You have approached them all with a sense of purpose and decency of which you can be very, very proud.

I turn to Senator Cameron, to Doug. I said that each leaves, in many ways, as they came: the grounded authenticity of Nige, the care and compassion of Claire, the warrior instincts of Doug Cameron—a warrior for his union; his party; his causes, particularly the cause of socialism; the people that he represents; and even, often, people who might not want Doug to represent them. Doug would stand there and argue the toss to represent them. He'll leave this place, but I am sure it won't be the last that we hear of his wicked tongue, with its sometimes cutting insults but also very rich sense of humour.

Doug, you spoke of your background, as you did in your first speech. You also spoke about a range of issues, and as always, after you've spoken in this place, it's incredibly tempting to anyone on this side to respond to highlight what we think are the inaccuracies or differences, but tonight I resist that temptation. Your career lends credence to the old saying that, while you may not always agree with another person's beliefs, you can certainly still respect the strength with which they hold them and the conviction with which they advocate for their cause. And there are few who advocate with as much conviction and determination as you have in your life—prior to being in this place, throughout your time in this place, and, I am sure, in the time hereafter. Yours, as you acknowledged, was a remarkable journey to this place. I think it was just yesterday, in condolence motions, that I reflected upon a Labor senator from the west who had a very similar history and also some similar lines about Scottish accents.

I particularly recall time spent with you, Doug, on the Senate environment and communications committee, and seeing your chairmanship of that committee, to which you brought the work-to-rule instincts of your union background. We would always finish at the precise time, and, if we didn't finish at the precise time, the lunchbreak would still be 60 minutes long to make sure that everybody had appropriate downtime. But I also know that there was a little bit of workplace flexibility that you brought to bear on it. I can remember conspiring with you one day to make sure that we ordered the proceedings of the committee in such a way that I could catch a plane to get home and see my kids. It is that human touch that many wouldn't have seen from the way in which you fiercely advocate for your issues and causes. But I know that it's there, and we've seen that reflected in your comments about your family and, indeed, in the care for the lives of other people that your conviction is driven by.

Politics can be fierce and tough, and it's fair to say that Doug has never shied away from a political scrum, from speaking his mind, and we heard that tonight. This place, of course, will miss his very distinguishable voice. Whilst Claire's jingles and rattles may have caught Hansard's attention occasionally, everybody knew who was speaking the moment Doug Cameron rose to speak.

Whatever the difference that exists across the political divide, our democracy is stronger thanks to the robust advocacy we see from Doug and from all of those who depart this chamber tonight. I want to commend each and every one for their service. I wish each and everyone's families—Elaine, in your case, Doug, and your children and your grandchildren, everybody—every success. May you enjoy getting your loved ones back from the service. Thank you for lending those loved ones to our nation. Congratulations to each and every one of you on your service. We wish you well and thank you.