'Thank you, God bless and remember me in your prayers'

MEMBER for Hinkler Paul Neville has used his last speech in Parliament to call for a return to civility in politics.

Mr Neville, who will not stand again at the election called for September 14, has served in Parliament for 20 years.

Member for Hinkler Paul Neville with a happy puppy at the Hounds on the Hill event in Canberra. Photo Contributed
Member for Hinkler Paul Neville with a happy puppy at the Hounds on the Hill event in Canberra. Photo Contributed Contributed

In his last speech he said it should not be beyond MPs' capacity to make Question Time what it should be - an eliciting of information rather than a forum for meaningless spin and invective.

"Like it or not it is the vehicle by which the public judge us because that is the forum of Parliament they most often see," he said.

"Surely we can do as good a job as New Zealand, Canada, UK and France.

"Despite the expectation of the new paradigm, it gets progressively worse with every Parliament."

Mr Neville served on the Parliament's transport and infrastructure committee and as the committee's chair, and oversaw several inquiries.

"It is obvious we can construct roads and highways better in Australia and some of the newer West Australian roads are testament to this," he said.

"We waste a fortune on merely patching. Laying asphalt over poor asphalt."

Paul Neville's last speech in Parliament 

Mr Speaker,

It would be fair to say that I have had an interesting and stimulating adult life. 

Very few of the things I desired were denied me by a loving God.

But as I said in my first speech, that was generally in his time scale, not mine.

I have had three careers - one in theatre, one in regional development and one in representative politics.

In the early '60s I joined the Arts Council of Australia in Brisbane as its first full-time CEO and at a time when the organisation separated from its NSW Division.

My role was to tour theatrical, musical, visual and educational shows and exhibitions to 57 centres in Queensland.

I toured the Australian Ballet, the Elizabethan Opera Company (later Opera Australia) J E Williamson stage shows, plays, jazz and art exhibitions.

This was incredibly satisfying work sharing the culture and art of Australia with regional and rural Australians - so many talented singers, dancers, actors and artists engaging with country people.

THEATRE NIGHTS: Member for Hinkler Paul Neville remembers with fondness the days he was the manager of the Olympia Theatre, now the Moncrieff Entertainment Centre. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail
THEATRE NIGHTS: Member for Hinkler Paul Neville remembers with fondness the days he was the manager of the Olympia Theatre, now the Moncrieff Entertainment Centre. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail Max Fleet

I would make the observation in passing - more is sorrow than anger - that despite the advances in transport and the electronic age, there is less touring of country centres today than 45 years ago.

But it is not surprising that some of the sense of the dramatic, of timing, of story-telling etc rubbed off on me and stood me in good stead for my current role.

And if, Mr Deputy Speaker, you'd allow me the indulgence of another theatrical analogy - this speech today marks the end of the season and like the actor on stage for the last time as the curtain comes down - I'm filled with a mixture of elation and sadness.

Like the actor on stage for the last time as the curtain comes down - I'm filled with a mixture of elation and sadness.

From live theatre I moved to cinema and to Bundaberg for Birch, Carroll and Coyle where my long-standing friend and mentor was Terry Jackman who has gone on to play a significant role in the promotion of Australian movies, cinema and tourism.

I also for a short time was a partner in a drive-in theatre.

They were great days as the better quality theatre chains grappled with TV.

I played a part in the funding of Michael Pate's The Mango Tree which was shot in Bundaberg, Gayndah and Wallaville.

Our local theatre hosted the world premiere a day ahead of Australian release.

So it is pleasing to see the current revival in Australian film-making and the role our talented actors and filmmakers play on the international stage.

We should not be shy in promoting and funding them.

Anyone who thinks he comes to this place, solely on his own merits, deludes himself.

For most of us we come here because of family, supporters and Party and the goodwill that those three components generate in our electorates.

We should ever be conscious of the great gift our electors have extended us.

Paul Neville, Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Bundaberg Astronomical Society president Mac Jonsen and 4BU radio announcer and Bundaberg Astronomical Society vice-president Bert Lister at the observatory in 1969.
Paul Neville, Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Bundaberg Astronomical Society president Mac Jonsen and 4BU radio announcer and Bundaberg Astronomical Society vice-president Bert Lister at the observatory in 1969. Contributed by Mac Jonsen

It is remarkable in the 112 years since Federation only 1093 members have sat in this House of Representatives and only 866 when I joined the team in 1993.

Of my seven elections three were very close - all of them under 450 votes and one at 69 (later 64 on recount) in 2001.

But as the goodwill of the people of Hinkler grew, the seat moved to a 10.4% margin with the LNP taking every booth even traditional ones.

That was 2010 and although I was not subjected to any pressure, it was obvious that these were the circumstances where one could move on confidently. And in that spirit, I wish my endorsed successor Keith Pitt every success.
I will miss this place, its all-consuming atmosphere and of course all of you from both sides.

Yes the hours are long, the travel is extensive, the complexity of constituent work daunting and the righting of injustices that come across our desks, challenging, even stressful.

Yet its very demanding complexity has its own reward.

That is not to say that the life is not rewarding. It is!

And the friendships and both sides have a character, warmth and respect of their own.

Strangely, I have never been thrown out of this place though I once was perilously close.

One particular Question Time, the Labor Opposition was restless and I took three attempts to ask my question.

On the third attempt Second Deputy Speaker Harry Jenkins said 'Ah tell 'em the Frog Joke'.

One particular Question Time, the Labor Opposition was restless and I took three attempts to ask my question. On the third attempt Second Deputy Speaker Harry Jenkins said 'Ah tell 'em the Frog Joke'.

This was a reference to a particularly dull night in Seoul, South Korea, when the Australian and Canadian delegation decided to liven up a reception.

Yours truly was grappling for suitably clean jokes that would not offend local sensibilities.

They loved the Frog Joke.

As Harry spoke, I got the giggles and couldn't stop laughing.

The tears ran down my face - I couldn't see the question, much less ask it.

Speaker David Hawker was not impressed and gave me one last chance. I got the question out.

So the Frog Joke.

My wife Margaret who is in the gallery worked beside me from the night I was first offered the endorsement in 1992.

Door-to-door, backs of trucks, stalls at markets and endless public meetings.

But her from-the-heart, un-doctored hand written letters to the electorate won more votes than you can imagine.

She also had a nose for trends and as a result of door-knocking in Biloela, correctly predicted the start of the Pauline Hanson phenomenon.

We campaigned together a lot in the early years.

PAST STUDENT: Federal Member for Hinkler Paul Neville at the St Joseph's Christian Brothers College Reunion in Warwick. Photo Gerard Walsh / Warwick Daily News
PAST STUDENT: Federal Member for Hinkler Paul Neville at the St Joseph's Christian Brothers College Reunion in Warwick. Photo Gerard Walsh / Warwick Daily News Gerard Walsh

One incident sticks in mind following my first election, I was bemused why five booths had swung against me in 1993.

One of these was Ambrose between Gladstone and Rockhampton - a small community built either side of the Bruce Highway.

En route to a wedding in Rockhampton, we resolved to call into Ambrose and see why.

It was mid-Saturday morning.

There was no one in the pub, the shop or the streets on the eastern side.

Moving to the west, it was almost the same but as we rounded a corner near the State School, up loomed a CWA Hall with 50 or more cars around it.

Here was our big chance to engage with the town in one hit. Margaret felt the locals might have been getting ready for a wedding or a dance that night.

So, bold as brass, and full of confidence, I bounced in and said to women who were feverishly going here and there - "Well girls, what's on here today?"

You know where I was? I, as a lone male, had just crashed a country pap-smear clinic.

You know where I was? I, as a lone male, had just crashed a country pap-smear clinic.

Margaret says I never learn, but let it be known Paul Neville went literally everywhere for a vote!

I have been blessed too with a loving and supportive family.

My twin sons, Peter and Paul, were with me for my first speech and Paul is here today with his wife Cait and three of my six grandchildren - Georgie, Angus and Hugh.

I know my other children Gavin, Gaye, Peter and Sally who is in China are with me today in spirit.

I also acknowledge my landlord and friend Mac Howell who with his wife Marilyn who made my last 13 years in Canberra a happy relaxed and welcoming experience overlayed with generous hospitality and too many red wines.

With me too is my long-term friend and political warrior, Michael Evans, who was the architect of many of the stunning Joh campaigns.

Here for this (and for other serious state/federal horticultural matters today) is one of my three immediate state colleagues, Steve Bennett the Member for Burnett.

Also in the gallery, is my friend of 40 years, Everald Compton.

My coming to this place owes everything to a band of friends and campaign workers but pre-eminent amongst them was Rod Wilson of Calliope who was campaign director for all seven campaigns.

He had a superb nose for local political sentiment, a rare and authorative organising ability, a sense of advertising effectiveness and his own system of statistical analysis - to say nothing of his ability to fund raise.

I will forever be in his debt.

ANZAC DAY: Member for Hinkler Paul Neville addressing the large crowd at the Bargara Dawn Service. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail
ANZAC DAY: Member for Hinkler Paul Neville addressing the large crowd at the Bargara Dawn Service. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail Mike Knott

Our organisational "light on the hill" has always been Dick Bitcon who has given over 50 years to the National Party in Queensland and Victoria.

I rate him as a close friend and confidant.

In 14 years in Gladstone I had a marvellous team - Graham Wilson, Greg McCann, Graham Fenton, Tony Goodwin, Ken O'Dowd now Member for Flynn, and deputy campaign director Don Holt who could find a way to mount a corflute anywhere.

In Childers Fred Henke, the ever reliable Alf Bonanno, and my current FDC chair Bill Trevor who has the rare art of taking the pulse of any district, served me well.

In Hervey Bay Steve Dixon, Norma Hannant, Brendan Falk, Len Fehlhaber, but I reserve a special place for Lin and Jan Powell.

When an unexpected redistribution gave me Hervey Bay, Lin a former MLA, Speaker and Queensland Education Minister literally came out of retirement, assumed the role of deputy campaign director and eased me into Hervey Bay - reciprocating the role I played for him in the '80s.

I've also valued superb corporate and business advice from Bill Moorhead (Bundaberg) Glen Winney and Graham Cockerill (Hervey Bay) and Graham McVean (Gladstone).

Graham, Kevin Campbell (Perth) and I spend every Easter on Witt Island where I refocussed and renewed myself for the year ahead - albeit with copious quantities of red wine and mud crab and a certain red cordial.

Co-operative State colleagues are a vital ingredient of an effective political environment. Over the years I've worked with Doug Slack, Jeff Seeney, Liz Cunningham, Anne Maddern, Chris Foley, Ted Sorensen, Jack Dempsey and Steve Bennett who, as I said, is in the Gallery today.

Two of these were conservative independents and the others National/LNP.

And, there were Labor members Trevor Strong, Nita Cunningham, Andrew McNamara and former member Brian Courtice - once my nemesis but now a friend and supporter.

Could I also say, one could not have had a better leader, mentor, close friend and electoral neighbour than Warren Truss whom I've known for some 40 years.

Could I also say, one could not have had a better leader, mentor, close friend and electoral neighbour than Warren Truss whom I've known for some 40 years.

In all that time across a wide range of roles, I have never known a person more across his brief than Warren nor a hostess as charming and welcoming as Lyn.

That brings me to the team - or should I say my other family, with whom I sit in this place, the Nationals!

It is 56 years since, as a 17-year-old I joined our predecessor the Country Party.

Earlier, as a 12-year old, pre-TV, I'd sit up on election night next to the radio with pad and pencil, writing down the figures and trying to assess who'd win the various seats.

From the YCP to its State President, to contest Wide Bay in 1969 and then to win endorsement for Hinkler in 1992, brought me to this place and the fulfilment of my long-held dream.

I will miss this family, its trust and its camaraderie.

We Nationals are a diverse lot with a common love of rural and provincial Australia and I hope I've played my part to make them better places to live and achieve the Australian dream.

I've been fortunate to campaign with giants like McEwen, Anthony, Sinclair and Nixon in 1969 and to serve under Tim Fischer, John Anderson, Mark Vaile and Warren Truss, all men of high integrity and purpose.

It would be fair to say the high point of my career was the eleven and a half years of the Howard Government.

It was exhilarating and one had a sense, as debt was paid off, the country was moving to a new beginning to be led by John Howard, Peter Costello and the previously mentioned Nationals' leaders.

I think history will treat those eleven and a half years well.

It will show that the focus on policy and positioning Australia for the long term, bolstered by Howard's strong commitment to Coalition, brought the Liberal and National Parties closer together.

Within that framework, I developed a taste for communications, broadcasting, transport and health.

I served on various iterations of the transport and infrastructure committee where my mentor was Peter Morris the then Member for Shortland.

Pre-politics he had helped me and the Hinkler House Committee in Bundaberg develop aspects of the House's history and its botanical precinct including the building of a full size replica of Bert Hinkler's amphibian, the Ibis.

OFFICIAL OPENING: Member for Hinkler Paul Neville at the opening of Bundaberg Regional Athletics Facility. Photo: Scottie Simmonds / NewsMail
OFFICIAL OPENING: Member for Hinkler Paul Neville at the opening of Bundaberg Regional Athletics Facility. Photo: Scottie Simmonds / NewsMail Scottie Simmonds

Later as Chair of that Committee I led several key inquiries, resulting in "Planning not Patching", "Tracking Australia", "Beyond the Midnight Oil" and "The Great Freight Task".

These were challenging reports and took us to highways, ports and airports across Australia and from cities to the most remote locations.

I remember during "Beyond the Midnight Oil" Inquiry at a Public Hearing the RAAF were explaining the fatigue treatment for airmen.

I asked one officer to explain a sleep apnoea machine.

He described a facial mask, tubing akin to a vacuum cleaner pipe and a blowing machine all of which delivered a constant stream of filtered air to the apnoea subject's face.

"And" I said "how many hours a night do they wear the device?"

"Oh, all night", he replied.

At which point, Colin Hollis the Member for Throsby chipped in 'I bet it does wonders for their sex life'."

It was deleted from Hansard.

At which point, Colin Hollis the Member for Throsby chipped in 'I bet it does wonders for their sex life.' It was deleted from Hansard.

It is obvious we can construct roads and highways better in Australia and some of the newer West Australian roads are testament to this. 

We waste a fortune on merely patching. Laying asphalt over poor asphalt.

Rail is also sorely neglected.

Suburban rail in most states is not keeping up with the urban sprawl.

Worse still we have talked for nearly two decades about an inland rail from Melbourne to Brisbane.

We've spent at least $30 million on studies, and reports to no avail.

It could be done for one and a half billion or even less through a PPP with government carrying out corridor and native title facilitation.

Put another way, if we'd spent about half of the School Halls/Pink Batts agenda as on this project, it would now be half completed.

Our freight would be moving faster and cheaper, our roads would be safer, road maintenance would be less and a corridor through the most productive part of Australia opened up.

This is the type of vision for which Australians crave, not the spin that suggests an east coast rail in 2050.
But, if it does happen, my kids have promised me a trip for my 110th birthday present.

Most of your know I've loved media and communications.

I take some pride in sandbagging the two-out-of-three rule in media ownership. We do not need corporate or regional barons controlling all three forms of media.

We should also see a radio broadcasting licence as a privilege and a responsibility.

I abhorred excessive networking of regional radio and I'm pleased there is an obligation to present locally devised and presented local programs and news.

That's the very least country people deserve.

Member for Hinkler Paul Neville.
Member for Hinkler Paul Neville. Scottie Simmonds

I have been singularly blessed with marvellous staff who have been, in all respects, a third family.

In 20 years I cannot remember a serious fight or disagreement in my office.

It is a happy workplace supported a voracious appetite for constituent work and the pursuit of electorate infrastructure projects.

Though never solicited, it is not uncommon to find flowers and a box of chocolates on the front counter from some constituent who never expected his or her seemingly insurmountable problem to be solved.

This sense of family and satisfaction at work has led to a very low turnover of staff.

My chief of staff Heather Hawkins has been with me for 20 years, Lesley James my former whip's clerk 16 years, Leanne Ruge now with Senator Bridget McKenzie 12 years, Janelle Geddes with great sense of legal writing, sixyears and Darlene Dobson with wide experience in printing, four years all of whom made coming to work a pleasure not a chore.

I have also been blessed with exceptionally talented media advisers - Brendan Egan, Scott Whitby, Tim Langmead, Kate Barwick and presently Cathy Heidrich.

Brendan, Scott, Tim and Kate went on to work in the offices of deputy prime ministers or premiers and two of them successfully in the corporate world.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by so much loyal and accomplished talent.

Though never solicited, it is not uncommon to find flowers and a box of chocolates on the front counter from some constituent who never expected his or her seemingly insurmountable problem to be solved.

This Parliament is well served by its officers and staff.

I have the utmost respect for Bernard Wright, David Elder, Robyn McClelland, my entitlements manager Debbie, the Sergeants, Hansard, Library, security staff, dining staff especially Kate (in earlier days) and Tim to say nothing of Greg, the transport office staff and Comcar.

They weave the strands of a cohesive web that wraps itself around this place and makes it function so beautifully.

One person who is often forgotten is Rev Peter Rose, our chaplain who quietly and unobtrusively goes about his role of counselling, comforting and leading.

He assists in the National Prayer Breakfasts and the ceremonies for the Opening of Parliament and the Parliamentary Years.

Some of us in the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship gain strength from Peter's Tuesday morning prayers in the Meditation Room.

Madam Speaker, I am an unapologetic admirer of Thomas More - a chancellor of England, a saint and the patron of politicians.

More, as portrayed by Robert Bolt, said:

"When statesmen forsake their private conscience for the sake of their public duties they lead their country by a short route to chaos".

Colleagues, how true is that. We see it in the collapses of the GFC, in horrors of the Balkans and the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

But, as we all know, we have seen the truth of these words in our own State and Federal politics over the last decade. Little wonder so many say they don't trust politicians.

 

HAVE YOUR SAY: Member for Hinkler Paul Neville has had a positive response to the Fix the Bruce flyer that has been distributed in the region. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail
HAVE YOUR SAY: Member for Hinkler Paul Neville has had a positive response to the Fix the Bruce flyer that has been distributed in the region. Photo: Mike Knott / NewsMail Mike Knott

As I leave this Parliament, I pray that in subsequent Parliaments we see a return to civility in this place.

Surely it is not beyond our capacity to make Question Time what it should be - an eliciting of information rather than a forum for meaningless spin and invective. Like it or not it is the vehicle by which the public judge us because that is the forum of Parliament they most often see.

Surely we can as good a job as New Zealand, Canada, UK and France. Despite the expectation of the new paradigm, it gets progressively worse with every Parliament.

And so as I look back over these 20 years feeling the exhilaration of successes, the stings of failure, the warmth of colleagues on both sides and the common humanity of the people I have been privileged to serve, it is time to move on.

Being, as I am, of National Party roots, I seek the comfort of a country setting.

Like the observer in Thomas Gray's beautiful elegy, I symbolically look out through the fading sunset to the cattle returning home and to the end of the day's work... as...

"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me"

Thank you, God bless and remember me in your prayers.

Topics:  parliament, paul neville



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