I rise tonight to express my condolences on the passing of Paul Neville, a former member for Hinkler in the other place. Paul passed away in the early hours of New Year's Day earlier this year. We've not had too many sittings this year and I've been waiting for some time to pay my tribute to him in this place.
Paul was a true gentleman, a friend and someone you just enjoyed being around. He was the kind of person that makes this crazy place in Canberra bearable. We miss him greatly in the Nationals party room. Our Christmas parties have not quite been the same without Paul. We in the National Party have always had a tradition of making our Christmas parties fancy dress, but it was Paul who took things to another level. There was a famous photo of Paul dressed at one of these parties in full lederhosen costume, knee-high socks and all. He's probably about 70 in the photo but he has the grin of a seven-year-old. Paul made everything seem more fun. Paul once told me a great story of the first time he missed a vote. He had ducked out of the parliament to arrange that year's fancy-dress costume. He got a call from the whip asking where he was. When he replied, 'Fyshwick,' I am not sure the whip was very amused. When he followed up that he was choosing a fancy-dress costume in Fyshwick, things probably went from bad to worse.
Paul could always get a laugh, and he enjoyed making others happy. He was a glue for our party and could take the tension out of any situation. But Paul was not a clown. He was a wit. He was one of the most switched on parliamentarians I have known. He could quote poetry and Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. That was probably because he was a frustrated thespian. He loved the arts. Paul's first career was in the arts. He was the first full-time CEO of the Arts Council of Australia in Brisbane. He later worked in a cinema and was a partner in a drive-in movie theatre. I think those skills served him well in this place, where telling a story is part of the role.
Before Paul served as a member he worked in regional development for the Bundaberg region. His understanding and passion for this work is what helped Paul win close election after close election. He ended up serving as the member for Hinkler for 21 years. In fact, Paul first ran for political office in 1969, losing the seat of Wide Bay. He would wait another 23 years to run again, and we in the National Party are very glad that he persisted.
Paul made enormous contributions to highlighting the infrastructure needs of regional Australia, especially communications. He was the go-to guy in our party room for all matters relating to communications and broadcasting. He was a tireless advocate for the Inland Rail project. In his last speech he mentioned that his children had promised him a trip on the inland rail for his 110th birthday present. It's sad that Paul won't be able to make that trip, but he did live to see the coalition government commit to building the inland rail, and we certainly plan to have it done long before 2050.
Notwithstanding our investment in infrastructure, there has, unfortunately, not been progress on regional broadcasting, another of Paul's passions. In his last speech he warned of the dangers of removing the two-out-of-three rule, which restricts media from owning too many different broadcasting outlets in one region. Unfortunately, some of Paul's concerns have been vindicated through the continual removal of regional broadcasting services or their syndication from a faraway centre. Paul had incredibly loyal staff, many of whom still work in this place. One of his staff, Kate Barwick, works for me. Paul's influence in this place remains, and he will continue to be a role model for what a good local member should be.
Paul gave one of the greatest valedictory speeches I have ever heard in this place. He always had a lot of important things to say. Even though, in this place, time constraints are relaxed for valedictories, there is some notion that you can't speak forever when there are speakers to come after you. His valedictory, however, in Bundaberg had no such constraints. His resulting 77-minute speech will not be one I will forget in a hurry. I can distinctly remember Paul, at about the 40-minute mark, mentioning, 'I will finish on this point.' That point went on for another half an hour. The next time I saw Paul was at the ordination of the Bishop of Rockhampton, Michael McCarthy. As we left the church after a three-hour service, I turned to Paul and said, 'Mate, that was nearly as long as your last speech!'
Paul was a man of great faith and resolve. He exhibited the true ideals of the Catholic faith. He cared for those less fortunate than him, he was humble and, of course, he had a large family of five kids. In one of my last conversations with Paul he asked me, 'How many kids do you have now?' When I replied, 'Five,' he, as quick as a fox, replied with, 'Well, you're either a committed Catholic or lapsed Protestant!'
Paul's true love was his family. His wife, Margaret, was as much a part of his success as were his own efforts. They were a true political team. Margaret was as well-known around the electorate as Paul and, given how many close elections Paul survived, I think it is true to say that, without Margaret, he would not have survived. But Paul did serve to win elections; he served to help people. We miss him greatly in the Nationals party room. He remains an template for us all to imperfectly strive towards. I know that his wife, Margaret, and his family miss him, too. There is some solace, however, in remembering how many lives he enriched and how many lives his example continue to shape. Vale Paul Neville.