NATIONAL farming groups and colleagues have lauded WA Liberal Senator Chris Back’s political career fighting for rural interests and Australian farmers.
Senator Back announced his decision to retire from federal politics yesterday citing family reasons, with next week due to be the last parliamentary sitting week of his eight year career.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged and thanked Senator Back for his dedicated service representing the people of Western Australia and specific focus on agriculture.
“Senator Back was an indefatigable advocate for the West, particularly ensuring the agricultural, agribusiness and resources sectors had a strong voice in the Senate,” he said.
“I thank him for his tireless committee work and representation of rural and regional Australia.
“Members and senators are volunteers to parliament while their families are conscripts. Senator Back’s decision to put his family first should be commended.
“I wish Senator Back and his family the very best for the future.”
WA Liberal MP for O’Connor and Katanning farmer Rick Wilson said Senator Back had been a strong and diligent representative for rural and regional communities in WA and his policy skills and dedication would be missed.
Mr Wilson said his Liberal colleague’s advocacy was most critical during the Indonesian live cattle exports crisis of 2011 when unprecedented pressure was being applied to the then Labor Gillard government to implement a full ban on the $1.8 billion trade.
But he said Senator Back’s in-depth knowledge and understanding of the live export trade and its animal welfare objectives and achievements over time, having worked in the industry as a veterinarian, have been “critically important” to countering emotion-driven campaigns, by animal rights activists.
Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport (RRAT) Committee co-chair and Queensland LNP Senator Barry O’Sullivan said Senator Back’s retirement would significantly impact on the knowledge and appreciation of the central role of rural industry within federal parliament.
Senator O’Sullivan said, as the first veterinarian elected to the federal Senate, Senator Back had consistently been a vital source of scientific knowledge regarding the complex and wide-ranging issues impacting rural industry.
“It is rare to have a Senator with the scientific credentials of Dr Back,” he said.
“Chris’ role as a scientific adviser to his colleagues will be sorely missed.
“He brought a depth of understanding about rural industry that made him indispensable to his colleagues.”
Senator O’Sullivan said Senator Back was an enthusiastic and critical contributor to the Rural Affairs Committee.
He said the WA Liberal had also been a “warrior” for rural communities and rural industry across Australia for his entire eight years in the Senate and many years before that in his previous careers.
“Chris stood tall during the live export debacle in 2011 and worked tirelessly to lobby Senators and MPs, including those on the opposite side of the chamber, about the extreme threats to rural industry if the trade to Indonesia was suspended,” he said.
“Senator Back was a loud and strong voice on the floor of the chamber during this debate and his efforts have helped to ensured that an Australian government will never again contemplate shutting down such a vital industry overnight.
“Chris’ contribution to our Senate has been immense and, as his Senate colleagues celebrate his achievements, I also have no doubt his dedication and good humour will be sorely missed by rural industry across the nation.”
National Farmers' Federation President Fiona Simson said Senator Back had not only represented the interests of his home state WA, but those of the greater national farm sector, during his political career.
Due to his professional background as a veterinarian, Ms Simson said Senator Back had provided “highly-valuable” advocacy and counsel during times of significant difficulty for Australian agriculture.
She said Senator Back was a “friend of the NFF and a friend of farmers in general” and his evidenced-based, balanced approached to matters before the parliament would certainly be missed.
“On behalf of the NFF, I sincerely thank Senator Back for his contribution to our Parliament and wish him and his family all the very best for the future,” she said.
Cattle Council of Australia President Howard Smith also paid tribute to Senator Back saying he’d long been an advocate for the beef industry and Australia’s rural businesses and families.
“The stewardship he has shown in the Upper House is a testament to the vitality of Australia’s regions and the strong leaders they produce,” he said.
“Cattle Council will miss such a strong voice in the Senate.
“We wish Senator Back well and look forward to seeing him around industry in the future.”
Brad Henderson from Meat & Livestock Australia said in a message of good-will to Senator Back, “Our industry will miss you greatly”.
“You’ve been a powerful advocate for the red meat industry and a much-needed voice of reason,” he said.
“Thank you for all you’ve done and all the best for your next chapter.”
Senator Back said during his career he had placed work above family but “my personal circumstances have changed recently and it is now time to redress that imbalance”.
Senator Back spearheaded a parliamentary inquiry in 2011 investigating shortages in agricultural education and agribusiness and impacts on R&D.
He told Fairfax Agricultural Media the time felt right to step aside.
“At 67 years of age you start to say – it’s better to go when people want you to stay rather than when people want you to go,” he said.,
“I’ve taken this decision to allow plenty of time for State Council to find a replacement and to then allow that person two years, before the next federal election.”