13 September 2023

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia—Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (17:31): There are very few people, particularly very few senators, who I could compare with or draw an analogy to involving a horse and not land myself in trouble, but I suspect that my dear friend Marise—or, at least, I hope—as a great lover of thoroughbreds and the sport of kings, may enjoy a little of the analogy to come.

The Italian trainer Federico Tesio said that a horse gallops with his lungs, perseveres with his heart and wins with his character. Marise Payne has given her all to public service, to parliamentary service and to service in the pursuit of her liberal beliefs and in the interests of the Liberal Party, but, most of all, to service for the benefit of her community and of our great nation. In parliamentary terms, Marise has galloped the long race and persevered through the barbs, setbacks and tribulations of politics, and she ultimately stands tall today, admired both here in the Senate and far afield around the world, thanks overwhelmingly to the strength of her character.

I note that a unique factor of equestrian sport, whether at an Olympic level or horse racing, is that it has no regard for gender. Men and women compete equally, exactly as Marise has done in her career. Marise will depart the Senate having created history and having made a powerful contribution to Australia. She has been a Liberal senator for New South Wales since 9 April 1997. Senator Farrell has noted that Marise will depart as the longest-serving woman in the history of the Senate and the 21st longest-serving senator in Australian history.

While these records of long service may one day be broken, it will forever stand in the history books that in September of 2015 Marise became the first woman to be appointed as Australia’s Minister for Defence, breaking through a glass barrier in a very male dominated domain and setting an example for women and girls across our nation—not just in politics and public life, but especially across and within our defence forces. In August 2018, Marise also became the second woman to serve as Minister for Foreign Affairs, while equally holding ministerial office over nearly a decade as Minister for Women and Minister for Human Services.

But the contributions Marise has made stretch far beyond the significant offices she has held. Through tumultuous times, Marise led Australia’s international engagement, including the regional support necessitated by COVID-19, the coordinated international response in the earliest of days to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and, as we have heard from Marise, the repatriation of thousands from Afghanistan. It matters to hear just how much that mattered to Marise. That is what people should bring to this place—that it cares and that it matters to them. There’s Marise’s reference to the Australian women’s cricket team and Don’s reference to the personal engagement he had, and there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other such examples of those who reached out directly to Marise in relation to that instance but also to so many others.

At different times during Marise’s tenure as Minister for Defence and Minister for Foreign Affairs, she oversaw Australia making the largest non-NATO contribution towards peace and in defence of international rules and norms in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Ukraine. It’s a reminder of just some of the scale of what we saw. Marise equally oversaw responses in Australia’s role in responding to Daesh during that group’s cruel and ruthless occupation of around a third of Iraq and Syria, a highly successful, multinational campaign that destroyed the territorial caliphate claimed by Daesh and a reminder, as she put it, of just how important it is for us to suppress those who would promote terrorism in any and all instances. Indeed, even closer to home, there’s the little-known, little-recorded support for the Philippines in its retaking of the city of Marawi, after the Daesh-aligned terrorist group occupied that city. It was an act well-recalled and well-acknowledged by the Philippines at that time.

As foreign minister, Marise led reform through this parliament in Australia’s interest, overseeing reform of our international sanctions regime by the adoption of Magnitsky-style sanctions and becoming the first minister to apply them through the introduction of new legislative regimes to protect Australia from foreign interference, to ensure that our foreign relations are in our national interest at all times and to ensure that our policies and legislative settings protect our sovereignty, our democracy and our systems, just as we seek them do so around the world.

That Marise’s tenure coincided with a significant change in the outward posture by the largest nation in our region is a fact. Strategic competition has changed the game and, as is increasingly evident under a new government, it isn’t always easy and will not be straightforward to counter those who play by different rules to Australia. Nonetheless, the opening up of six new Australian missions was just one part of the Pacific Step-up that Marise led, with other components, including establishing big new financing streams such as the Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific, direct financing support and climate financing support for Pacific Island nations, provided directly to help with their adaptation and response.

The strengthening of our national security through the elevation of the Quad, through the different stages of its elevation, towards ministerial dialogue and ultimately leader-level dialogue, is a big accomplishment of Marise Payne, along with the establishment of AUKUS. Marise equally successfully leveraged Australia’s international standing to further increase our global influence by running successful campaigns for Australian candidates for a number of key international positions, with the OECD, the Committee on the Elimination of Discriminatory against Women and in the leadership of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

A large but often less spoken of aspect of the work of a foreign minister is the consular support. We heard a little of that in terms of the Afghan repatriation, but there are countless such examples. Marise took those to heart, as we have seen here, but always delivered with a calm head her negotiations, efforts and strategies to seek to free, in particular, arbitrarily detained Australians and dual citizens, showing personal care and engagement for them and with their families, securing support from third or fourth party nations, quietly enlisting and deploying special envoys all seeking to make a difference to save the lives of others.

While Minister for Defence, Marise oversaw the finalisation of the 2016 Defence white paper, elevation of the defence budget to two per cent GDP, vast new investment in defence capability and the development of stronger counterterrorism responsiveness across the ADF. A striking feature of Marise’s long connection to our Defence Force, both as minister and also through her many years in Senate committee service, was the extraordinarily high regard that Marise is held in by service personnel across Australia. Just as she respected their service, they too respect her willingness to listen, care and engage with them.

It has been pointed out to me that there are two framed memorials that hang in pride of place in Marise’s office, memorials that I would have walked past and observed many times, but the symbolism of them matters most when we are seeking to understand somebody in a contribution to their service such as Marise’s. The first is a collection of portraits of every ADF member killed in Afghanistan. The second is the sonar scan of the hull of Australia’s first submarine loss, HMAS AE1. The former of these, of those who served in Afghanistan, its symbolism and significance are evident to all of us. But many will not have reflected upon HMAS AE1. It was a submarine lost with all hands on a combat patrol against German forces off the coast of what we know as Papua New Guinea in September 1914. Thirteen searches over 104 years were unsuccessful in finding it. But in 2017, Marise Payne authorised and approved funding for the 14th search and it was successfully found, the final resting place of the 35 officers and sailors. Lest any of us forget all who have served, because Marise certainly never has and never will.

As the minister for Women, Marise worked to deliver new initiatives to counter family and domestic violence, address critical areas of women’s health and advance the leadership role of women in Australia, doing so with her colleagues and counterparts, always seeking that influence.

Marise has, right from the days of being the first of a woman to be elected as federal president of the Young Liberal movement in 1989, shown a great determination to push through barriers while applying a sharp intellect but never losing the caring and considering instinct for all around her. She has sought to mentor and inspire, to encourage new generations, especially of young Liberals. I certainly still vividly remember 16½ years ago, walking through those doors for the first time as a senator, former Senator Fifield to one side of me and Marise on the other side, each having in different ways helped and contributed to the journey to be here.

I would never at that time have imagined that we would go on to share a department—Marise as Minister for Foreign Affairs, me as minister for trade. Sharing a department as ministers can sometimes break friendships, it is safe to say. Ours was an unusual arrangement for the department too. The foreign minister—I’m sorry to say, Don—is usually treated as the senior minister by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In the ministerial pecking order, I was the senior minister, but none of that ever mattered because our relationship was such that we were able always to work through each and every one of the challenges before us and we proved to the department how effectively a team could get things done. Personally, I could not have asked for a better friend or more trustworthy confidante throughout my own Senate career and I am grateful for every minute of that to date. The old Truman quote, ‘if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog’ does not hold true for me. Marise Payne is the living truth and evidence for me that you can have friends in politics.

Again and again, Marise has shown her respect for the institution of the Senate, the primacy of the parliament and the unique role of the parliamentarian. That has been demonstrated whether it is in service on privileges committees or by being entrusted with difficult work, even in this parliament in recent times, around development of codes of conduct and the challenges to modernise some of those issues within parliament. It is also evident in the fact that Marise also does everything properly. There have been changes to language and slippage over the years. While questions nowadays often say ‘My question is to the minister. Will you…’ If you give that to Marise on a question, I will always hear the words ‘Will the minister confirm …’ Never will she put a foot wrong in that regard!

That doesn’t mean that Marise has always done everything by the book in the chamber. One of my most favoured memories of the last time we had to endure sitting on this side of the chamber was coming down for frontbench duty. I must have been a very new and young frontbencher at that time. Marise was sitting there, where Senator Ruston is right now, with her laptop open in front of her. As I plonked myself down next to her I asked, ‘What are you looking at?’ It was her horse, racing. I forget precisely where it was racing—maybe the country races at—

Senator Payne: It was at Randwick!

Senator BIRMINGHAM: Randwick! Goodness! Hello—I take it back, I withdraw: it was Randwick. It was a very serious race, so little wonder that Marise, being diligent enough not to have swapped her frontbench duty, wasn’t going to miss watching the race at Randwick. So we sat there together in the seats where Senator Cash and Senator Ruston are sitting now and we watched him come home for the win. I think the clerks at the table were completely befuddled as to what on earth was happening in the seats next to them as we saw Marise’s horse win.

Marise was a challenge, I’m sure, for Penny to follow in the foreign ministry in a range of ways, but was so equally for me in international engagement—and, no doubt, for Don. It’s because her precise pronunciation and elocution in everything is something none of the rest of us can live up to. Former senator Fifield used to love to play a particular game with Marise, back in the days when you could find a karaoke bar in Canberra and it was acceptable to go there at night. Outside the karaoke, Mitch would pose questions to Marise about when something or other would happen, desperately hoping that the answer would mean her saying ‘Wednes-day’. I’m still not doing it justice—Wed-nes-day! Indeed, every syllable was precisely pronounced. But that certainly served well in international engagement.

President, against the realpolitik we all work within, Marise has held true to her values and beliefs, and fought tirelessly for the people of New South Wales, in particular in Western Sydney and particularly alongside Stuart. She has been a passionate liberal, both philosophically and politically. The high regard Marise enjoys internationally is exemplified in her recent nomination by the United States, as she started her remarks with, to act as the ship’s sponsor for the USS Canberra, the first US Navy ship to ever be commissioned outside the US. She already serves on the board of the Observer Research Foundation America, and I have no doubt there will be many more such contributions to come. It’s impossible for me to meet with foreign ministers, or former foreign ministers, around the world in my current role and not have them speak highly of Marise or extending their best wishes to Marise. I know that so many of them continue to engage with her.

What she demonstrated today was a reminder to all of us that being here matters, that it always matters and always deserves our respect and gratitude for the opportunity to be here. So we farewell Marise from this Australian Senate, but I know that the work she does in the future will always matter; that she will continue to work for Australia and for global peace and prosperity, and that I will leave here with a very dear lifelong friend.