Senator FIFIELD (Victoria) (9.30 pm)-I rise to pay tribute to my coalition Senate colleagues who, Cinderella-like, will be transformed at the stroke of midnight on 30 June. I begin by acknowledging the service of Senator Sandy Macdonald, Senator Grant Chapman, Senator Ross Lightfoot and Senator John Watson. Between them, they have given an extraordinary 81 years of parliamentary service to the people of Australia. But I must single out Senator Watson, who holds the honour of being the father of the Senate, with his 30 years of dedicated service. He has been the very model of a legislator. I think in Senator Watson’s chest beats the heart of a United States senator, such is his commitment to hold governments to account-not least his own. Senator Watson is a grand and wise senator.
But I particularly want to pay tribute this evening to my close colleagues and friends, fellow Victorians, Senator Kemp and Senator Patterson. Senator Kemp comes from a great political family, a civic minded family-not a dynasty, but a family with a deep commitment to ideas and to public service. Rod has served the community in this place and outside in the same dedicated manner as his brother and father. The Australian of 27 March 1990 heralded the arrival of Rod Kemp and his brother David in Canberra as ‘what many people consider a new force in Australian politics’.
The article went on to describe Rod, David and others, such as Peter Costello, as:
“… the intellectually able, articulate, committed candidates the Liberals need in Canberra to win government … they would blow into the national capital as a crackling dry wind of new rationale.”
Rod came to the Senate after seven years at the Institute of Public Affairs, where his commitment to ideas was very much on display. Rod, as he is known, also served as both a senior frontbencher in opposition and as an opposition staffer to former senator Dame Margaret Guilfoyle and to the Hon. Andrew Sharp Peacock. Senator Kemp can list numerous achievements over his parliamentary and ministerial career, but I think he will be remembered best for two of his more prominent roles: firstly, as Assistant Treasurer and the part that he played in shepherding the GST through the Senate.
I was working for a former treasurer at the time and took a very close interest in the work of Senator Kemp. Senator Kemp fronted up to question time each day and fielded a regular barrage of probes on the intricacies and obscurities of the new tax system. He acquitted himself magnificently. Indeed, he answered some 379 questions without notice on the GST and the new tax system. This amounted to a little under half of the 808 answers he gave to the Senate as Assistant Treasurer.
As a staffer I also use to delight in watching the Rod answer questions-or not, as the case may be-from Senator Sherry in the context of the now defunct super surcharge. Time and again Senator Sherry would ask Rod what the difference was between a tax and a surcharge. Senator Kemp took great pleasure in assisting Senator Sherry understand the difference, going to great lengths. I think the answer which typifies Rod’s service as a minister and service to advancing the cause of providing answers to opposition senators was:
“Senator Sherry, a tax is a tax; a surcharge is a surcharge. You could not be clearer than that.”
Senator Faulkner-Couldn’t get that through to Senator Short, though.
Senator FIFIELD-Touche! But Senator Kemp did play favourites in this chamber. He could, I think it is fair to say, have been more helpful to Senator Sherry and, for that matter, he could have been more helpful to the late Peter Cook when answering questions. Senator Kemp did have his favourites on the other side-and Senator Lundy comes to mind. At times it seemed like there was a non-aggression pact between Senator Lundy and Senator Kemp. There was a certain ardour that was evident. It was in his role as Minister for the Arts and Sport for six years that Senator Kemp and Senator Lundy came to know each other better. Rod’s appointment to that role after the 2001 election was met with some initial scepticism by the arts community, fearing that the Carlton fanatic would be more focused on sport than the arts. But they did not have anything to worry about, because Senator Kemp’s passion for the arts was life long. That commitment translated into incredible support for the arts in Australia.
Upon the announcement of Rod’s retirement from the ministry, Australia Council chairman James Strong spoke glowingly to the Age of how the arts had fared under Rod’s stewardship. James Strong said:
“It has been a very constructive period of consolidation and stability. Many people take it for granted and don’t appreciate how successful Senator Kemp has been in getting the money delivered after it had been recommended.”
Well done, Senator Kemp. Just prior to Rod’s retirement from the ministry, he would have been very proud of the record funding announcement for the Australia Council of $418 million over three years.
We are indeed fast approaching a watershed moment in Victorian and Australian politics. For the first time since March 1990 there will be no Kemp in the federal parliament. It is much like when the last of the Daniher brothers left Essendon in 1997. But there is an extremely odd thing about Rod’s career, and that is that, not only in this place but also in the Liberal Party organisation, Senator Kemp seems to be largely bereft of enemies-and I think I found the reason why that is the case.
In Rod’s maiden speech, he noted of Dame Margaret Guilfoyle that she:
“… showed that politics can be conducted with dignity and decency. She showed that a successful political career could be built without vicious personal denigration of opponents; that politics in sensitive portfolios could be conducted successfully without sordid deals with vested interests.”
And, 18 years later, we can judge that Rod Kemp has been faithful to this standard that he was no doubt setting for himself.
I would now like to turn to my other valued colleague, Senator the Hon. Dr Kay Christine Lesley Patterson, who is one of only four serving senators, I believe, to have served in this chamber for more than two decades. One thing that each and every one of us knows about Kay is that she has always adopted a pastoral approach to her constituents, to her staff and to her colleagues. There would be very few in this chamber who have not had the experience of sitting next to Kay during the course of a division and receiving a free and often unsolicited diagnosis followed by a referral.
Kay would also very freely dispense parenting advice, personal advice, and she would also offer perspectives on the psychological state of colleagues in both houses. Kay also has an incredible ability and encyclopaedic medical knowledge, and, at the drop of a hat and without invitation, Kay will talk to you endlessly about issues ranging from hermaphrodites to foetal alcohol syndrome. Such is the experience of sitting next to Kay during a division.
Too often and unfairly, some in other parties-not to mention any by name-give the impression that they believe that their party possesses a monopoly on compassion and concern for those facing additional challenges in life. Kay’s career and public life puts the lie to that. Kay has always championed issues for those with disabilities and she flagged the intergenerational challenges of an ageing population and the contribution and challenges facing carers long before it was in policy vogue. Kay’s policy interests were not those that were sexy or ones that a careerist would have chosen.
But Kay did reach high office, becoming just the eighth female cabinet minister since Federation and one of only 14 women to have served in the federal cabinet. Kay’s ministerial achievements are many, but I will single out just one that she was particularly passionate about, which was the idea that she pushed for many years, allowing the families of people with severe disabilities to establish private trusts to provide for their care, which could be established without affecting entitlements to benefits. Kay championed it without much support and was instrumental in putting together a $200 million dollar package to give effect to it.
I think Kay’s finest moment as a parliamentarian came after her retirement from the ministry, through her sponsoring the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction and the Regulation of Human Embryo Research Amendment Bill 2006. Although I voted on the other side of the chamber to Kay on this issue, I acknowledged at the time that bringing the bill forward was a demonstration of Kay’s compassion and commitment to the health of Australians. In presenting the bill to the parliament Kay was discharging her responsibilities as a legislator and was giving the parliament the opportunity to decide on the recommendations of the Lockhart review, as was the intention, I believe, of the review provisions of the 2002 act. Kay has always been a parliamentarian first.
At a recent dinner in Melbourne, organised by the Victorian Liberal Women’s Council to celebrate Kay’s public life, there were 400 people from around Australia representing all aspects of Kay’s life. What struck me most was that pretty much all of us in political life lose friends along the way, but Kay has not only kept her pre-political friends, but added to them through public life. Both Rod and Kay will certainly be remembered in their post political lives as substantial figures in the history of the Australian Senate. They can be very pleased with their successors in this place, Scott Ryan and Helen Kroger, both of whom have very large shoes to fill.
When Rod and Kay first entered parliament they no doubt wondered, like all of us do, what their careers would hold for them. But I think, Rod and Kay, as you leave this place, you can do so in the full knowledge that you have done yourselves, your families, your party and your country immensely proud. We are grateful to have served with you. Your presence here has meant that this parliament, the state and, indeed, Australia, are much better places. You are leaving us, but we know that we will see Rod and Danni an awful lot in the future. We know that we will see Kay Patterson a lot in the future as well. Your commitment to public debate and to the Liberal Party will continue. You will certainly both be missed.