I was sad to hear of the passing of former Nationals MP Paul Neville at the start of this year. Mr Neville was one of the greats—a true gentleman with a wicked sense of humour. Neville entered parliament in 1993, the member for Hinkler. He was appointed Nationals Whip in 1998. He would go on to be one of Australia's longest-serving party whips and one of the longest-serving parliamentarians in the Wide Bay region, leaving on his own terms when he decided not to recontest election in 2013.
Some of Neville's greatest achievements were in the area of media and telecommunications. He was passionate about maintaining diversity in regional media content and in ownership. He fought to ensure continued access to vital communications services in rural and regional areas throughout his parliamentary career. In 1999, he was the first person to mention in parliament the tiny rural town of Ubobo, which was fighting Telstra's decision to remove its one and only payphone. This small story hit national headlines—a symbol, Neville said, of a growing problem right around Australia of stripping essential services from regional areas. In the end, Neville and Ubobo won, and they got to keep their phone box. He won a lot of battles in that same humble, grassroots, local way.
Neville was very close to his electorate and he knew the fishing and sugarcane industries inside out. He would always listen to what the electorate had to say, whether it was about a little phone box in Ubobo or larger transport or health issues, and he would always bring people's concerns right to his colleagues. He was known as one of the greatest contributors to debate in the party room. His Nationals colleague and good friend Ron Boswell shared an anecdote with me that I think encapsulates this quality of Neville's. Back during the Howard government, Treasury proposed to reduce the required maturation point of Bundaberg Rum. You see, the longer rum was left to mature in the keg, the less the Treasury could collect in excise, so they wanted to get it out sooner rather than later. Neville led the charge to stop this money grab. He was outraged. He asked then Treasurer Peter Costello how on earth, as a fellow member of parliament, he could possibly contemplate opposing the most iconic thing to come from his electorate. Ultimately, Costello agreed, and the vote was shelved.
The former member for Wide Bay, Warren Truss, tells another story, of the time Neville stepped off a plane in Bundaberg. Everyone around him started spontaneously clapping. He looked around, wondering who it was for. It was his constituents applauding him for standing up to his then party leader at the time and refusing to support a bill that he knew his electorate wouldn't stand for. And that really speaks to the core of Neville's character: a parliamentarian who always put the wishes of local people first and expected no special treatment for it.
It would be remiss to talk about Neville and not mention his skills as a raconteur. He was famous for it and always had a funny story to tell. If you ever need to get a good sense of Neville's humour and a good laugh for yourself, have a read of the story he tells in his valedictory speech about his chat with an RAAF officer and their discussion on how airmen handle fatigue.
Vale, Paul Neville. Your passion, your kindness and your jokes will be remembered by all of us for many years to come, though we know you'll be sorely missed by Margaret and the rest of your family and, I suspect, the people of Hinkler.