House debates

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


Hon. Peter Drew Durack QC

2:11 pm

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

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.

2:15 pm

Photo of Brendan NelsonBrendan Nelson (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the opposition, I strongly support this condolence motion for Senator the Hon. Peter Durack. Peter Durack was born in 1926, the descendant of a family who were pioneers in the settlement and the early economic life of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. He was also the cousin of distinguished authors Mary and Elizabeth Durack. The Durack family’s history, beginning with the mid-19th century migration from Ireland, is presented by Mary Durack in Kings in Grass Castles and its sequel, Sons in the Saddle.

He served in the Western Australian Legislative Assembly as the Liberal member for Perth from 1965 until 1968. He was elected to the Senate, representing the state of Western Australia from 1971, where he served until 1993. Peter Durack was co-founder of the University of Western Australia Liberal Club, just a few months after the party was conceived in 1944. In 1949 he was selected as Western Australia’s Rhodes scholar, and tutored in law at Oxford before returning home to work as a barrister in Perth.

In 1965 Peter Durack was elected to the Western Australian Legislative Assembly, where he served until 1968. After serving as State President of the Liberal Party from 1968 until 1971, he was elected to the Senate, where he served until 1993. He remains just one of a handful of Australians to have served in the Senate for over two decades. Having served as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Peter Durack was appointed Attorney-General in the Fraser government from 1977 until 1983 and as Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate.

Peter Durack was an early advocate for freedom of information laws and, as Attorney-General, presided over the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act in 1982. He was a champion for the rights of individuals who had disputes with the government, putting forward a freedom of information bill in 1972 and presiding over the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act in 1982. He was also one of the early advocates of economic reform in Australian politics, being among those calling for lower tariffs and labour market deregulation well before it became economic orthodoxy.

Durack was acknowledged by Fred Chaney as one of the best political and legal minds in the country. Former Prime Minister John Howard noted:

His first interest was not conniving and plotting; his first interest was good policy and good government.

As the Prime Minister has further observed, he had a reputation for being a thoroughly decent individual.

Peter Durack has mentored a generation of Liberal parliamentarians throughout Australia. As a fellow Western Australian, our deputy leader, the member for Curtin, has particularly noted how his wise counsel will now be missed but that his influence will continue. Peter Durack is survived by his wife, Isabel; children, Anne and Philip; and four grandchildren, to whom we offer our condolences and respect.

Photo of Harry JenkinsHarry Jenkins (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

As a mark of respect to the memory of Peter Durack, I invite honourable members to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

I thank the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Albanese) adjourned.