Warren Entsch's 20 year Anniversary Dinner

What a wonderful occasion, that I like you are privileged to attend tonight.

As one off the oldest ( and longest standing ) of Warren's political colleagues, it is an honour for me to say a few words and to read some excerpts from the truckloads of good wishes that most of Warren’s parliamentary friends who have been unable to be here tonight, have conveyed.

Can I start at the top and read just a couple of paras from the Prime Ministers Message, which so succinctly capture the phenomenon that is Warren Entsch.

"Warren is one of a kind, and while on balance that's probably a good thing, our workplace could do with a bit more of the love and trademark Warren bear hugs that offer a nice alternative to much of the cynicism of politics.

Anyone who has had a bad day should experience the full Warren bear hug - it can take your breath away and along with it, many of your cares.  Perhaps we need to have a bear hug room as well as a meditation room in Parliament, where Warren can provide his special brand of ministry."

Bronwyn Bishop followed that up with a reminder that it was not all Warren’s own work when she said

"But more important than anything else was that Yolande entered your life.  It gives me great joy to see you together, now an old married couple.

Your ability to hold the seat of Leichhardt is legendary.  Your larger than life persona is an asset to the Parliament."

Teresa Gambaro captured the thoughts of most parliamentary colleagues when she said

 "I count you as one of my dearest friends, and someone who I have been able to count on in the good times and the bad.  You’re irascible, irreverent, charming, cheeky, caring - and a little bit kooky."

And Mal Brough so rightly wrote

"I have found in politics that you gather many acquaintances but few loyal friends.  Entschy, you are one of the few, mate and I thank you for that."

A more  recent colleague in the form of Barry O'Sullivan, after 2 pages of gratuitous  insults about Warrren’s good looks (or lack of them) his physique, dress sense, hair styles, and general appearance (all of which I might say in Barry's defence that he confessses absolute similarity) perceptively wrote 

"In fact, it could well be argued that in the beginning when the good Lord had your clay in his hands, he moulded an incredibly vibrant personality with charm, character, and truckloads of charisma as he knew you would need to be a particularly unique type of person to transition from being a military man, a crocodile catcher and ringer from the remote and isolated top end of our great country, to being one of the most recognised and much loved political identities in the nation.

Not only are you a true fighter for everyone in the far north of our country, but you have also championed other important and sometimes controversial causes with an almost agnostic disregard for what anyone or everyone might think on the subject.

You are amongst those advocate elites, who has the courage of their convictions."

But as many of you in this room who have been around for 20 years or more will know,  if I had have had my way back then, we wouldn't be here tonight. As I have confessed many times, I didn't vote for Warren on his first preselection out of loyalty early to the previous candidate, but as always the preselectors with their usual 20/20 vision, got it right and selected the right candidate - and as they say, the rest is history.  I haven't made that mistake since.

In reflecting on those early days can I say how delightful it is for Warren - and indeed myself,  to see here tonight some of the many  who toiled in those early days to elect Warren as the first ever Liberal in the seat of Leichhardt and to turn this electorate into a safe LNP (well LNP/Entsch) enclave.

And I acknowledge tonight, as Warren did in his Maiden speech on 20 June 1996,

Hal and the late Faye WESTAWAY, Gladys Potter and the women's council, Doug and Lyall Jones, Paul Beasley, Kel Ryan, Bob Norman, Peter Taylor, Graham Smith, Nicole Tobin-Donnelly - and Senator Ian Macdonald, Sandy Mulley from Weipa, Joy Palmer.   

And I know that most people in this room, have at some time or another, had a major role in helping to ensure Warrens re-election, and I mention just a couple (and I shouldn't because there are others who did just as much ) in recognising Phil and Lyn Warwick, Diedre and Colin Forde, Naomi Wilson, Trent Twomey, and of course all the tolerant and long suffering staff of Warren’s who over the years have always made him look good - and who continue that role tonight.

In passing can I also note in that maiden speech, Warren’s smashing of a perception about the Liberal Party, when talking of his past history where, as 14 year school leaver he started work as a lad porter in the railways, and moving upwards from there to the chief toilet cleaner at the Mareeba Railway Station. He told the House:

"The perception, that the Liberal Party consists only of the privileged and silver tails of our society, is just as inaccurate as the perception that the Labor Party represents the workers and less advantaged members of our society."

You know it's amazing to read in that maiden speech all those years ago, of all of the issues which loomed so large in the electorate at the time that desperately needed fixing.  Things like mental health, lack of any mobile phone service, unsealed major roads, TV black spots even in Cairns, threats to Australia's Health and Quarantine through the Torres Strait.  And to see that now because of Warren's perseverance, energy, determination, compassion , and I might say,  on occasions political blackmail, many of those problems have largely disappeared. 

Perhaps his modus operandi to success was foreshadowed in that first speech when he said 

"I was for a time a site convenor  for the Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union and among my more interesting occupations, I spent considerable time as a wild bull catcher and crocodile trapper. These latter occupations will I am sure assist me greatly in dealing with the political process in Canberra."

I still remember how accurate and prescient Warren was in that speech when he reflected the mood in Northern Australia at the time with his words, 

"I stand in awe of the fantastic infrastructure and services available to the lucky citizens of Canberra.  Coming from a regional electorate, Canberra seems like fairyland.  The services provided here are almost beyond the imagination of my constituents.  It is little wonder the bureaucrats and decision makers, insulated in the comforts of Canberra, lose touch with the harsh realities of regional Australia."

How things have changed with the real progress that has been achieved in the North  with the Northern Australia Whitepaper with which both Warren and I played a major part, and the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Northern Australian Development which Warren has so skilfully chaired.

That he is understanding of people was evident in his maiden speech as it has been all thorough his life when he paid tribute to so many Islanders from the Straits and Aborigines from the Cape and the non-Indigenous families who had made this part of the world, their world over many generations - people like the Shepherds, the Quartermaine, the Jacksons, the Calligahans and the Cummings. Eddy Kolroyd',  Wompi Kepple, Gordon Charlie and their families.

His advocacy for the disadvantaged is legend.   And this understanding and empathy with all peoples has been one of the hallmarks of Warren’s success. 

Not only has Warren been a champion of Northern Australia and people generally but in his maiden speech he specifically and proudly talked of the shipbuilding industry in Cairns. He said then:

"We have a ship builder in the electorate NQEA.  Unfortunately, for reasons known only to the previous government, NQEA went for 13 years without being awarded a defence contract - this is in spite of their competitiveness and proven track record."

We can only hope that the work of Warren and Trent Twomey and Advance Cairns and many others including myself 20 years on, will see the return of the once vibrant industry.  I'm not sure if I would want to be around Warren if this does not occur, but then I am sure Warren’s persuasiveness - or political blackmail, - will again rise to the fore, and new industries will eventuate. 

Warren is the type of person who attracts humorous  anecdotes and we would need days  to recount even just some of them.  But we all know Warren’s  passion for good food, good company, virility and good living, is legend - and is the stuff legends are made of.

My irrazeable memory of Warren in this light, is of the night of a Tasmanian Seafood Extravaganza in Parliament House a few years ago when I personally saw Warren consume 13 doz oysters - and others told me there were more later.  When challenged about this, Warren conceded the truth, but lamented that only half of them had worked!

Warren has championed many causes with determination, vigour, enthusiasm, emotion, and skill.  He understands these issues implicitly and has empathy with those involved - all of which has made him a wonderful and successful advocate for the people he represents.

No one particular cause should define Warren over and above all of the worthwhile causes he has fought for.

But his advocacy for the LGBTI community is a good example of his approach and determination to the many cause he has championed.

Indeed I conclude where I  started with the words of Malcolm Turnbull referring to the LGBTI community - and the Prime Minister’s reflections on this one of Warren’s many campaigns,  equally apply to them all.

The Prime Minister wrote

"Warren, your support for this cause is true and unswerving.  It shows that no one should judge a book by its cover, that humanity is universal.  You have been a staunch champion of law reform and marriage equality and although you encounter many opposing views on this matter, you treat everyone with respect.

"This is the mark of a statesman and on this issue, that's what you are.  You seek an inclusive Australia, not a divided one and many of your colleagues could learn from the way in which you go about your cause - with love, humility, respect and above all, from the heart. 

My warmest congratulations on your 20 years in Parliament and may the next 20, be just as exciting."

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