Tuesday, 26 August 2008
Hon. Peter Drew Durack QC
That the House record its deep regret at the death on 13 July 2008, of the Honourable Peter Drew Durack QC, and place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.
Peter Durack was born on 20 October 1926 in Perth, an only child, descending from the pioneering Durack family of Western Australian. He served for 22 years in the Senate, from 1971 to 1993, achieving his greatest distinction as Attorney-General in the Fraser government from 1977 to 1983, a role in which he implemented several historically important legal reforms. Senator Durack was a man who was motivated by a deep sense of public service, a strong sense of personal integrity and a commitment to human rights and legal reform. Malcolm Fraser remarked following Senator Durack’s death that he could not remember ever hearing him say an unkind word about another politician or about anyone else. That is a remarkable reflection of this man’s great personal decency.
Senator Durack commanded respect from all sides of politics. Gareth Evans, as Leader of the Government in the Senate, in his valedictory remarks for Senator Durack in May 1993, spoke warmly of the friendship he had enjoyed with Senator Durack and the genuine respect that he held for Senator Durack’s commitment to good government, good policy and genuinely liberal reformist instincts.
Senator Durack’s interest in politics began in his early undergraduate years when he co-founded the University of Western Australia Liberal Club just a few months after the party was conceived by Sir Robert Menzies in 1944. After becoming a Rhodes scholar in 1949 he studied at Oxford and subsequently practised law in London and then in Western Australia. Before entering the Senate in 1971, Senator Durack served a term in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly from 1965 to 1968. He held ministerial positions as the Minister for Repatriation, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and the Minister for Administrative Services before being appointed Attorney-General of the Commonwealth in the Fraser government in 1977. As Attorney-General, Senator Durack oversaw one of the most significant periods of law reform and human rights protection in Australian history. He was responsible for the appointment of some of the most distinguished judges to serve on the High Court, including Sir William Deane, Sir Ronald Wilson and Sir Gerard Brennan. Early on in his time as Attorney-General he oversaw the implementation of freedom of information legislation that for the first time gave Australians a legally enforceable right to access information held by government. That legislation was one of the most notable changes to civil liberties in Australia.
Senator Durack had a strong personal interest in law reform and, as Attorney-General, oversaw changes to copyright law, administrative appeals and the powers of the Federal Police and ASIO. He worked on the Acts Interpretation Act—a brave man, I would say, for trying that—which was a historically significant piece of legislation instructing the judiciary to take a broader view of the purpose of legislation rather than adopting a literal interpretation. He was also instrumental in the ending of appeals to the Privy Council.
Senator Durack retired from politics in 1993 as the father of the Senate, and I know he was held in high regard as, in some respects, a father figure to some current Liberal members from Western Australia. On behalf of the government I offer condolences to his family and particularly to his wife, Isabel, their children, Anne and Philip, and their grandchildren.