RETIRING senator Chris Back says the sudden death of his close friend and former Western Australian Liberal colleague Don Randall had a “profound and dramatic” influence over his decision to leave politics.
He also wants his replacement to have agricultural and rural credentials to prevent the WA Liberals from being “exposed” by The Nationals WA who want to own and dominate country representation.
Mr Back announced last week he was quitting politics after eight years in the federal senate and will make his final speech on Tuesday in the Upper House, with this also being his final sitting period in federal politics.
A search is underway to find a replacement.
A nomination deadline has been set for July 7 and a meeting of the Senate Selection Committee will be held on Saturday, July 22.
Slade Brockman – a former chief of staff to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and WA Pastoralists and Graziers Association grains policy director – is being touted as one of the front runners for the job.
Mr Back said he “certainly will not be canvassing any individuals” to be his replacement but stressed whoever it was needed strong agricultural and rural credentials.
He said when he made his bid for pre-selection in 2008, the then Nationals WA leader Brendon Grylls was out in the public saying his party was in charge of the bush and Liberals should just look after the cities.
“It was that as much as anything else that resonated with the preselectors which got me to where I am now and I hope that I’ve honoured that commitment to rural and regional Australia and WA agriculture during my eight years in the senate,” Mr Back said.
“If I wasn’t replaced by someone with a strong agricultural background, that gap would be widened and I think the Liberal Party would be exposed.”
Mr Back cited family reasons for his decision to retire and told Fairfax Agricultural Media the unexpected passing of Mr Randall in July 2015, after the former Canning MP suffered a heart attack and was found dead in his car at Boddington, at the age of just 62, reminded him there was more to life than just politics.
Mr Randall had been one of Mr Back’s closest friends in parliament and someone he considered a personal mentor.
“You come to the realisation, from a family point of view, at 67 years of age, that you don’t have a number of active years left,” Mr Back said.
“I’ve seen Don Randall pass away suddenly and recently lost another close friend and colleague (former WA Liberal MP) Eoin Cameron which certainly helped me and my family reach a decision to make the move while we’re still fit enough to be able to live a life beyond politics.
“Don’s passing had a profound and dramatic impact.
“He was younger than me, we were great mates and he was a scallywag but 62 was far too young to die.”
Mr Back said WA politicians also faced added, cumulative career pressure due to the extra travel required to reach Canberra – but the upside of that extended travel time was being able to read parliamentary papers such as inquiry submissions.
“This job can be like drinking from a fire hose – everything comes at you – so if you want to make a difference, you need to read your papers and submissions to parliamentary inquiries that people have taken the time to write,” he said.
Mr Back said he had mixed emotions about retiring as on one hand it felt the time was right to go but it had also been “absolutely phenomenal” to represent his constituency, including the farm sector.
“The tributes that have come out from industry groups such as grains, livestock exporters, cattle, agricultural researchers, dairy and even my colleagues in the parliament from all sides of politics, has been humbling,” he said.
“I’ve even had a phone call from (retired Liberal New South Wales senator and farmer) Bill Heffernan.
“It has been humbling to hear the comments said to me and about me.
“But our circumstances have changed relatively recently and basically, I think this is a good time for us to make this move.”
Mr Back said his decision to retire arrived about two years out from the next election, which allowed his successor, as was allowed when he entered the senate, time to find their feet and “do enough to seek and hopefully get re-elected”.
He said it was also a time when he felt he’d achieved everything he was capable of achieving.
“Clearly at my age I am not going to get promoted to the ministry or the assistant ministry, so I think it is a good time for me to retire,” he said.
“I’ve never been one to look backwards and won’t suffer from relevance depravation syndrome I can assure you.
“I’ve never been beholden to anyone and I’m not factionalised which in some ways didn’t help me politically.
“Maybe if I was aligned to a faction, I may have climbed higher up the tree – but I see people leaving cynical, disillusioned and tired and I want to go on my terms.
“Now is the time to put family and my own interests first.”
Mr Back said there were two core areas of unfinished business that remained incomplete with the first being his private members bill regarding animal protection and forcing animal rights activists to account over the use of video evidence of genuine animal cruelty.
“There hasn’t yet been a response from the government formally to that and that will be an area of disappointment, that I never got the animal protection bill up,” he said.
“In this parliament or in the next parliament if there is a senator who wants to continue to prosecute the case, well it sits there on the statutes.
“At the end of this parliament and going into the next one, if nobody decides they want to continue it, then it will go off the statute books.”
Mr Back said his second area of disappointment was being unable to develop a national policy for bushfire mitigation in Australia.