Barnaby: “Fitting Farewells To Life In The Senate”

24 Jun

Senator Barnaby Joyce writes for the Canberra Times:

Valedictory speeches are like writing then delivering your own eulogy. With the Senate changing to the Greens in the next fortnight, the eulogy metaphor in this instance is quite pertinent.

We like to think that the world will stop spinning momentarily on our passing in reverence to the great benevolence of our public office, but the reality is it doesn’t. Former United States president John Fitzgerald Kennedy rarely enters our consciousness, so the meagre contribution that we think will change the world is unlikely to earn the laurels of posterity.

The celebration of vicissitude, from private to public life, that our election brings is a false dawn, a self-indulgent naivety. The reality is that the course of politics generally appears to be guided by an invisible force that will have its way regardless of our singular political efforts or despite them.

If someone asked me to describe politics, the personalities and the legacy they leave, it would be this: thixotropic.

Nick Minchin was the dominant figure throughout his career but the broader public became more engaged with him towards the latter end through his battles with a colourless, odourless gas. He was typecast as mad right so you might have been surprised to hear that he opposed the invasion of Iraq.

My anecdote of Nick is best summed up in this. A man lying on his back, behind his desk, listening to an oratory on CD, as he stood he said to me, ”Yoga for your back, Lord Monckton for your mind.”

Guy Barnett, what does that name mean to you? If I said he was a No1 pro-life advocate, does that make you feel happy, mad, ambivalent or querulous? Judith Troeth was a counterweight to Barnett being a pro-choice advocate. These debates on conscience are by far and away the most heartfelt. The quality of the debate is leagues better than the standard fare. It is amazing how quality improves when your words really do have an effect on your colleagues. I am always bewildered when people say that conscience votes are hard because you have to make up your own mind.

Alan Ferguson was a clear example of the pragmatic farmer who despised flashiness and had the fortitude to stand against the tide on populist issues, a beacon of common sense, even if it required crossing the floor from the chair, a neat trick. He kept to his principles to the end, proposing in his valedictory speech that the farcical event that question time has become should be abolished. I agree with him on this. It’s merely a cathartic experience that delivers neither a question nor an answer. It is not even good theatre. If you want to see a proper question time watch Senate estimates.

If a valedictory speech was to win a prize as a piece of opera then Julian McGauran’s would, right down to the intrepid pauses and the final bow with his hand on his heart. Sections of his career could have been written for Carmen and the close erred towards a scene by Puccini.

Russell Trood met his political execution, an inevitable result of being No4 on a ticket, with exceptionable grace and dignity.

Labor is also losing senators Annette Hurley, Dana Wortley, Steve Hutchins, Michael Forshaw and Kerry O’Brien. Hutchins and Forshaw are the traditional faith, family and the Labor Party senators. I don’t think I would be stretching it too far to say that they have a more authentic concern for the issues of working people than the opportunist, placard-waving Greens. Yet, regrettably the Greens gain the ascendancy.

Some valedictory speeches are sad, some like careers are non-descript, some are never given because of disgrace, pique or death in the job. Most speeches are a retrospective of the deliverer’s career with a final flourish for Hansard as to what they believe they have achieved. On that basis the reality is that the high points that really have changed the course of our nation easily fit into the allotted 20 minutes, with plenty of time left for stumbling gags like the best man’s speech at a country wedding.

Such is life for all of us; small cogs in a big, big wheel in a machine that would probably keep working if the wheel dropped out and rolled down the hill into the lake. Valedictory speeches, the oral graveyard of senators, that intrepid tribe of self-proclaimed indispensable people.

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