Statements by Senators - Curtain, Sir Michael, KBE, Jones, Mr Ewen

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:45): There is not often, in this place, a lot of opportunity available to senators to place on record, in a timely fashion, the tributes that I want to make to two men who, apart from both being from Townsville, do not have a lot in common. One, sadly, passed away just last weekend, and the other is very much alive.

Last weekend the north lost one of its visionaries with the passing of the late Sir Mick Curtain. Sir Mick was an innovative, forward-looking and courageous entrepreneur whose business empire extended from North Queensland to our nearest neighbour in the north, Papua New Guinea. Sir Mick and his brothers established themselves out of Townsville but into PNG in 1966, starting out as civil engineers and construction operators. Today their operations extend to mining, bridge and dam construction, shipping and wharf construction, major infrastructure and property development and building construction. Sir Mick's work created new businesses in both North Queensland and PNG and provided many with work opportunities, for people of the north and for Papua New Guinean locals alike. Much of the activity in the Townsville port area is the responsibility of, or as a result of the good work of, Sir Mick Curtain and his company, Curtain Bros, and their shipping line, which operated regularly between Townsville and PNG. The other major involvement of Sir Mick in business was the quite significant work that he did in Port Moresby, particularly with the establishment of the new port area at Motukea. These two activities of Sir Mick are lasting testaments to his vision and energy.

Sir Mick was a guy who did not like publicity. He did not like the limelight. But I do know that he was a person from whom prime ministers and senior ministers in both Australia and PNG often sought counsel. Over the years I have had the privilege of visiting Port Moresby and seeing at first hand the impact of the development and investment in that city that Sir Mick originated and the impact that that has had on the PNG economy. Such was the effect of Sir Mick's contributions that in 2005 he was knighted by the Papua New Guinean government for his efforts—an accolade that was so richly deserved for his help in developing that nation's economy.

I am not sure if too many senators have been to Port Moresby. It is a place where we, as Australians, perhaps should be more involved—as we should be in the whole of the country of Papua New Guinea, our nearest neighbour. But Sir Mick's work at Motukea and in the main township area of Port Moresby was really quite outstanding. He converted what was a remote little island in the Port Moresby harbour area into a modern, efficient working port that recently the PNG government has bought into and moved the main shipping areas of Port Moresby down to Motukea. It is a testament and a memorial that will live long after Sir Mick.

I particularly remember, on one of my visits there, how proud Sir Mick was to introduce me to a group of young people. And I have to say: most of them were women. These local women and men were being trained in the trades, as boilermakers, plumbers and mechanics—in all the engineering skills that Sir Mick was involved in in his establishment at Motukea. He was very proud of the fact that he was teaching these young PNG locals—and, particularly, a lot of women—these trades and skills that would do them well during the rest of their lives.

I extend to Lady Jennifer Curtain and her family my condolences on their loss. As a nation, we have lost a great innovator and visionary. Rest in peace, Sir Mick.

The other person I want to pay tribute to, who also hails from the Townsville area, is Ewen Jones. Unfortunately, from my perspective, we heard yesterday that my political party, the Liberal National Party of Queensland, would not be taking to the Court of Disputed Returns the result in the electorate of Herbert. That was a decision made by the lawyers, on the evidence that they had before them and, no doubt, on the very best legal understanding of the situation.

I was disappointed, and I had hoped that there would be a reference to the Court of Disputed Returns because there were simply so many irregularities in that poll that I thought the matter deserved closer scrutiny by a court. I do not have time and do not want today to go into the irregularities, but I intend to raise them during the course of the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters' inquiry into the 2016 election.

There was clear evidence of hospital patients being told by the AEC that they would be around to collect their votes during polling day and that they waited all day and the AEC simply did not turn up. There were other reports of people wanting absentee votes in other parts of Australia and simply not being able to vote because there were not any envelopes to put the absentee votes in. They are just a couple in a long list of irregularities.

But today I just want to pay tribute to Ewen Jones, who was the member for Herbert for six years. Ewen, as I say, is very much alive, and I certainly hope we will see him back in public life at some time in the future. He had a difficult job in the last election. There were nine candidates, and all of the other eight candidates did not preference him, which was unusual, with a couple of the parties—parties like Family First and even One Nation and even perhaps Mr Katter, who we would normally expect would preference us over Labor—having open tickets, which resulted in a very poor preference flow. But that is the past. I just want to pay tribute to what Ewen Jones has done in the six years that he has been the member for Herbert. There have been enormous advances in the community based in Townsville, and I know that a lot of those advances result from Ewen Jones's own enthusiasm, his telling way of putting the argument and the way that he was able to get things done where perhaps others would not have achieved that.

Time does not permit me to mention all of Ewen's successes, but I do particularly want to mention the eastern rail corridor, which will mean so much to Townsville and its advancement; the stadium and the City Deals program, which Ewen was very much involved in devising; and the Singapore defence deal, which will mean $1.2 billion worth of Singapore money coming into Townsville with Singapore's defence forces as they train there, thanks to work that the coalition government has done with the Singaporese and their defence forces. These are just a few of the many things Ewen Jones was involved in, and certainly the roadworks that you see everywhere around Townsville are a tribute and a monument to the work he has done.

Ewen was a great guy. He was very helpful. His life was devoted to helping other people in the Townsville region. As I said earlier, I certainly look forward to the day when Ewen will be back in public life, continuing his contribution to Townsville and the North and to all of those people he has helped and will help in the future. Thanks, Ewen, for everything you have done.

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