Speeches | September 04, 2018
Condolences - Hon. William Desmond McGrath
Victorian Parliament - 4 September 2018 - Ms KEALY - Last week Victoria farewelled the Honourable Bill McGrath, former Nationals member for the seats of Lowan and Wimmera, former Minister for Agriculture, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, and Minister for Corrections, sporting legend — on the tennis court and the footy field — a fantastic Wimmera producer and woolgrower, loyal supporter of Wimmera Legacy and other community organisations and associations, but above all else a devoted family man.
I feel a little bit out of order in this condolence motion actually because Bill was famous, as has been recalled by other members, for always opening a speech with a terrible joke. I thought back to Bill’s jokes and unfortunately I do not think I can really tell any of those jokes in the Parliament today, so I may skip over that —
An honourable member interjected.
Ms KEALY — No, I think that is not appropriate today.
Minyip was Bill’s heartland; he had moved to the area as a young child and went on to establish a successful farming enterprise. Bill’s connection to farming never really waned even though there was bit of pressure from his family for him to spend more time away from the farm so that he would stop breaking machinery or putting another ding in the car. In this past week I heard a story of one election campaign in which his son, Shane, was asking people to: ‘Vote for my Dad, so we can get him off the farm and stop him breaking things’.
Bill entered politics in 1979, taking on the sitting Liberal Party member for Wimmera, Jim McCabe. While his local notoriety as a sportsman placed him in a good position to win the seat, there is no doubt that Bill’s tireless grassroots campaign as a voice for the traditional working farmers of the region helped him out. Whether he was at the local agricultural and pastoral show, a local footy match — or his third for the day — community events or meetings, Bill shook the hands of as many people as he possibly could. This was advice that he passed on to me as I entered my election campaign.
Bill’s hard work across the electorate in that first campaign did not wane after the election but continued over all 20 years of his parliamentary career. He worked hard for the people of the electorate and earned every single vote that delivered him strong electoral margins. He never took his privileged role as the local MP for granted, and he was renowned for making the effort to travel back to the electorate from Melbourne for a deb ball or other community event and then head back to Melbourne that night so he was ready for business the next day. It was this grassroots connection and devotion to the community that people admired about Bill. He was never pretentious and never so wrapped up in the world of politics as to take his eyes from the people that voted him into the position in the first place.
Bill’s devotion to the people of the Wimmera and Lowan most likely earned Bill his reputation of turning over two parliamentary vehicles a year. This was a benchmark that I and my predecessor, the Honourable Hugh Delahunty, were held against very, very closely, Bill being of the firm view that if you were not wearing out two cars a year, you were not working hard enough. The cards were always skewed in Bill’s favour though. Hughie and I could never, ever meet this benchmark of two vehicles a year, as rather than the 60 000 to 80 000 kilometres that we currently do in a car, Bill was turning them over at 40 000 kilometres. So even though we were doing the same kilometres or more a year, we never passed muster when it came to Bill’s assessment of how much we were getting around the electorate.
Above being a highly regarded, approachable, accessible and respected local member, Bill was a fierce and highly successful minister. As Minister for Agriculture he led Victorian agriculture through one of its greatest periods of structural reform, with changes in dairy, the egg industry, barley marketing, the meat industry, tobacco and the Grain Elevators Board. He was passionate about making sure he was making a difference to farmers, with his mantra being that everything he did had to help a farmer make a dollar or save a dollar. As Minister for Police and Emergency Services he was faced with three significant events in 1998, being the waterfront dispute, the horrific murder of Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rod Miller and the tragic deaths of five CFA volunteers at the Linton fire. This would be a heavy load for any minister, but Bill handled it exceptionally well. He dealt with all these events with respect, professionalism and integrity, and above all else as a true leader and a gentleman.
Beyond his parliamentary life Bill’s loyalty to The Nationals never wavered, providing ongoing strong support to me and the Honourable Hugh Delahunty over our time representing Lowan in the Victorian Parliament. His key advice to me was based on a football analogy. Given that my football career was one game where I was dragged at half‑time, it was not that easy for me to get my head around. Basically it was that you have to take up an issue as if you have just got the football in front of a huge group of players: everybody will tackle you, they will be kicking you and punching you and, no matter what happens, as long as you get through to the other side still holding the ball, you have done the right thing. This is something he told me nearly every time I saw him, and I know that was also something that was drummed into Hughie as well. And it is the way that he played politics, he was someone who had integrity, and once he had made a decision and knew he was making the decision for the right reasons, he would proudly fight for that decision no matter what was thrown at him, and he would always come out with the right decision at the other end of the tackle.
Aside from Bill’s footy analogies I also remember Bill’s jokes — some terrible, others worse — but this was just part of the way Bill was always able to engage with people on any level, on any topic, from any background. This was reflected in the community remarks made to me in the past week following Bill’s passing, and I would like to share some of those with you:
Bill did a great job representing those people in his electorate but he also served as a minister on two very important portfolios. He was a credit to his family and he was one of Minyip’s favourite sons. He never forgot who he was or where he came from …
A beautiful and well‑respected man in all circles. I remember fondly our tennis days and your exemplary sportsmanship. A true gentleman.
Great friend and contributor to the Wimmera. Memories of his time with Wimmera racing and Horsham racing. Condolences to Ivy and family.
A true caring and motivated former member of Parliament.
Bill was such a decent bloke doing so much for our community …
I think that really summarises exactly the feelings of people across my electorate who greatly appreciate Bill’s contribution to the region and how he had improved the state of Victoria over the years. Bill was a tireless and fierce advocate for rural Victoria, especially his homeland of the Wimmera. His strength on the footy field and as a local farmer and food producer stood him in good stead for parliamentary life. He often recalled to me the battles he faced in his ministerial roles with pride and sincere passion, and he generously shared the lessons that he learned on the journey. I will never forget his advice and guidance, which has assisted me greatly in my parliamentary career. Thanks, Bill — a true statesman and great country MP, of the people and for the people. My deepest sympathies go to Ivy, Katrina, Shane, Simone and Alicia, the late Naomi and the many, many members of the large McGrath family. Vale, Bill McGrath.
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