STATEMENTS BY SENATORS - North Queensland


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:41): I'm pleased to see you in the chair for this speech, Mr Acting Deputy President O'Sullivan. The recent floods in the north and the cheerful responsiveness of northerners to this and other regular calamities that are part of our life up there highlight my absolute passion for the north and its people, with their courage, compassion, generosity and genuine friendliness. I guess this passion is inbred in me as my parents and grandparents were all born and raised in the north, in Cloncurry. There is no greater northerner, I have to say, than my wonderful wife, Lesely, born and bred in Ayr, whose love and enthusiasm and support has enabled me to do the things that I've done in my life and without whom I would never have been able to achieve what little I may have achieved in my almost 40 years in public life—11 years as a councillor on the Burdekin Shire Council and now 28 years in this parliament.

The way northerners respond to these calamities and challenges has again been evident over the past few weeks, and that's what makes the north so special to me. I particularly want to mention the Army at the Lavarack Barracks, whose immediate presence in calamities is such a comfort during those times of crisis. This was made possible by the presence in Townsville of Australia's largest Army base, Lavarack Barracks, where I had the honour just a couple of years ago of officiating at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the opening of that base.

Over the years I've been fortunate to have had assistance from a team of northerners in my office, who've helped me do my job—from my first staffers, Xenia; Leanne; and Guy, and all those in between up to my present staffers, Marie; James; Matthew; Michael; Sharon; Lorraine; and my friend and former colleague Peter Lindsay, the former MP for Herbert, who has come on board at this time to help with assisting those recovering from the floods. I should mention also the help that many non-northerners have given me and who I've had the privilege of working with in my ministerial office, led by some wonderful chiefs of staff—Russ Street, Mark Elliott, Robert Reid and Phil Connole. I also acknowledge the many senior public servants who've always help me do my best for Australia, all of whom I've worked with started as employees but have ended up as lifelong friends. The northerners whom I've been associated with and have loved are typified by my old friends Peter and Lorraine Henderson, Tony and Juanita Chandler and my longstanding, supportive friends in the Burdekin branch of the Liberal Party in Ayr, led by the wonderful Neville Dickinson and his wife, Elvie.

As the election approaches, it's my determination to be re-elected, to give the north a true voice in this parliament. Regrettably, I'm the only senator from North Queensland in the parliament at the current time. Other parties may choose to parachute Brisbane candidates into northern offices, but they will never represent the people of the north like a true northerner can. I hope that when I eventually do leave this place I will be replaced by a true northerner who has empathy with the north and who can genuinely represent their views, because it's only by having a strong local voice that things can be achieved. There are things like the original establishment of Lavarack Barracks, which I mentioned; the recent expansion to accommodate the 14,000 Singaporean troops that will be based in Townsville for training in the future; and the university in the north. I might proudly add to that the establishment of the very first non-capital city medical school at that university, which I played a very small part in. There are also the new research and education facilities that abound in the north and the development of the north following the implementation of the northern Australian development white paper, which I was able to have a Liberal government adopt. There are the little things like the thousands of individuals whom I've been able to help with their own issues and those of their groups, who, without a voice in the north, without someone in town, so to speak, may not have been able to have been assisted.

As one of the very few parliamentarians from the north who has achieved ministerial rank, I've been able to kick some goals for northern Australia, such as the northern white paper that I mentioned, which started its gestation back in 2004; for local government, of which I've been a part and where I had the honour of being honoured at their recent convention; for the Australian territories; for our forestry industries, which played such an important role in the 2004 election, when, dare I say, I and the CFMEU fought to protect local workers' jobs in the forestry industry; and for the fishing industries, where, amongst other assistance to local industries, we were able to establish the very significant central and western Pacific fisheries tuna commission. We also fought and won the battle against the pirates stealing Australia's rare but valuable Patagonian toothfish.

I've been privileged to serve in this parliament from humble beginnings, from a humble family. I put myself through law school, externally, while studying in my community. I was involved in sporting events as well as community and business events. There are my 11 years on the council and my service in parliament as currently Australia's longest serving parliamentarian.

I want to acknowledge and thank the Liberal Party and all of its real supporters for their support and guidance over many years—too many names to mention but I do want to particularly mention the Hon. John Moore, who was there when I started and who assisted me considerably throughout my time in this parliament. I've made some real friends in this place over the years. I acknowledge the wonderful support given to parliamentarians by the staff in the chambers, by attendants, by Comcar, by transport officers and particularly by committee staff, who do an incredible job. One of my committees this week has produced some five reports in urgency but with brilliance. I suspect that, whenever I leave, the IT and 2020 people will be quite relieved!

The Senate is not the same place as it was when I first entered, and sometimes I fear for our parliamentary democracy. But now is not the time for that; perhaps that's a speech which I will be able to make in the new parliament. The fact that many parliamentarians read all of their speeches is, I think, a backward step, although my preference for off-the-cuff speeches does run the danger of omitting important people or facts, and I fear this may be the case in this speech, which has been made in haste, in just 10 minutes, as part of the regular senators' statements part of our program.

As we approach the election, I wish everyone a rewarding election and success, especially those on this side of the chamber. And I do believe the government will be returned. It is a good government; it's doing some amazing things and is very well led. I have confidence that Scott Morrison will be returned as Prime Minister whenever the election is held.

As I said in my maiden speech, the future of the nation lies in the north. I believe that there's still a lot more the north can do and can contribute to our nation. I hope that in my time in the Senate I've been able to play a small part in developing the north, and so making a worthwhile contribution to our nation.

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