House debates

Tuesday, 4 December 2018


Bush, President George Herbert Walker

4:56 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

George Herbert Walker Bush, otherwise known as George Bush Snr, was the 41st President of the United States of America. He held that role from 1989 to 1993. He died at 94 years of age on 30 November—a great innings. His marriage was also an epic innings: he was married to Barbara for 73 years. She passed earlier this year.

President Bush had a reputation as a decent and honourable man. He enlisted in the US Navy on his 18th birthday, in 1942. The Second World War was underway. He became a naval aviator. As we heard, his aircraft was downed and he was recovered by submarine. After the war he was very successful in the oil business in Texas and entered politics as a member of the House of Representatives for the state of Texas. He was an ambassador to the United Nations and a director of the CIA.

President Bush visited Australia in 1991 to 1992 and addressed a joint sitting of this parliament. He said that that year, 1992, marked the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea. He said:

We remember the courage and the fighting skill of the Australian and American naval forces. Their valour spared Australia from invasion and stemmed the tide of totalitarianism.

In Darwin, in my electorate, we commemorate the Battle of the Coral Sea every year at the USS Peary memorial.

In that same speech, President Bush went on to say how Australia and the United States had stood together in several conflicts since World War II, particularly mentioning the then very recent First Gulf War. He said:

In the Persian Gulf we stood together against Saddam Hussein's aggression. Indeed, the first two coalition partners in a joint boarding exercise to enforce the United Nations resolutions were Australians from the HMAS Darwin and Americans from the USS Brewerton.

I was speaking to one of my constituents in the last couple of days about President Bush's passing. I often like to convey, through this parliament, the sentiments of members of my electorate. One of them said that his memory of President Bush was of his 'calm, measured, impeccable response to the Kuwait invasion', and that George Bush Sr was 'a true statesman'.

One very positive outcome of our continuing friendship with the United States has been the Australian American Leadership Dialogue, which was founded in 1992 by Phil Scanlan with the support of then President Bush. I was privileged to participate in the most recent dialogue, earlier this year, visiting President Bush's home state of Texas—Dallas and Fort Worth—and then going on to Washington, DC. Darwin is the capital of the north—the military capital of the north, if I can say so—and home to the US Marine Rotational Force, which, on rotation, is presently about 1,600 marines but is expected to grow.

We find ourselves in different strategic circumstances to those faced by George Bush Sr and his generation; however, there are some similarities with the circumstances in which the former president lived. Heightened tension between the US and China, and some geopolitical turbulence in the Indo-Pacific underscore not only the critical importance of our alliance with the United States of America but also the importance of that alliance as it pertains to our security and prosperity. Our strategic environment will continue to be shaped, even as this great generation passes on, by our relationship.

Can I just say in closing that I think one of the legacies post the Cold War is the creation of the 'coalition of the willing', which I think was one of the greatest examples of statecraft. Former President Bush Sr did not overreach but worked with the international community to set an optimistic tone for how we would go forward in multilateral ways to make the world a safer place. I think it is important that we pause to remember George Herbert Walker Bush Sr, 41st President of the United States. May he rest in peace with Barbara.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

5:03 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Leader of the Nationals) Share this | | Hansard source

Hear these words of the late President George HW Bush:

We are a nation of communities … a brilliant diversity, spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.

What brilliant perception. President Bush led a truly diverse and yet truly strong nation. He saw the strength in that diversity and he delivered the leadership to draw people together into the common cause. His leadership was based on his personal strength; it was unmistakable. This man of great humility never spent much time reflecting on himself, or his own background as a World War II combat pilot shot down from his burning plane, ejected and then miraculously rescued.

Back home his service to people around him continued. As Chairman of the Republican Party in Harris County in 1963, he ran for the US Senate. He was not elected; he never countenanced that as a failure, but rather as an experience. Barely two years later he was elected to the US House of Representatives. He served in crucial roles—US Ambassador to the United Nations in 1971, US envoy to China from 1974 to 1975 and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1976.

The strength of character shone like a beacon again when he sought his party's nomination for the presidency but lost to his opponent, Ronald Reagan. But again he refused to walk away. He was to become Reagan's Vice President, working with him as a team to see the world-changing demise of communism and reunification of Germany. Indeed, it was during George HW Bush's presidency that the Cold War came to its end. In fact, we can be quite precise about this. On 12 February 1989 the negotiations drew to a climax when President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev held their first meeting of Bush's presidency in the harbour of Valletta, Malta, to discuss nuclear disarmament and the strengthening of Soviet-American trade relations. Both leaders announced that the Cold War was effectively over.

Bush was the servant of the people around him as a lifelong calling, not simply for his term as President. A most wonderful example of this was after the devastation wrought on Louisiana and Mississippi by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bush joined forces with Bill Clinton, who had defeated him in the 1992 election, to establish the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, raising donations well beyond $100 million in its first few months.

For President Bush, it was always about the other person. Last weekend, marking the passing of this great man, a former staffer recalled that, if the script of a speech used the personal pronoun too often, he would get out a red pen, circle the 'I's and notate it with, 'Too many'. He felt that, in a democracy, the word to be used was 'we', not 'I'.

I was to have the great opportunity to meet George Bush Sr. It was during a District 9700 Rotary International group study exchange tour to Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts in 1993. There we were assembled outside what they called the 'Summer White House', at Kennebunkport in Maine, a wonderful historic fishing town. I was there with the late Simon Terry—he was our leader; Andrew Hamilton and David Meiklejohn, with whom I still remain very close friends; Michelle McInness, who was a psychologist at Kapooka army base; and ABC reporter Jackie May. We were all ready to meet the great man, and, as he was walking down the path to greet us, that was the very moment in history that President Clinton decided to have the missile strike against Iraq, and the Secret Service agents, the security men, whisked George Bush away. They thought it was best that he go indoors. He gave us a bit of a wave. We were basically 40 metres from meeting him and having lunch with him and his partner for life, Barbara. It was a missed opportunity but a rare moment to reflect back on at this sad time, this momentous time, as we speak in this chamber about the legacy that he leaves.

It is true that the Bush family had accrued wealth. It was wealth derived from courageous business decision-making and from sheer hard work. The family could have been satisfied to have made this massive contribution, with their patriarch rising to arguably the position of greatest responsibility across the world. But the family ethos embedded in the life of the 41st President of the United States was one of service—service above self, you could say, which is of course the Rotary motto. So it would come as no surprise that one son, Jeb, John Ellis, served as Governor of Florida and another, George W Bush, served as the 43rd President of the US. Each brought their own steely resolve to their responsibilities, but each drew strength from a family who saw beyond themselves and understood the greater good—public service. I'm not recommending that we wish the responsibilities we feel upon our own families. I wouldn't do that. But we do see this utterly remarkable dedication and commitment to the people around them that President George Herbert Walker Bush and his family around him have shown to their nation and to nations across the globe.

I started with the words of George HW Bush. Let me conclude also with his words, and they are words that can serve to inspire certainly all of us in this parliament but, more so, offer inspiration to us as a nation:

No problem of human making is too great to be overcome by human ingenuity, human energy and the untiring hope of the human spirit.

We celebrate the very real contribution that President George HW Bush has made, quite directly, to the quality of life that each of us enjoys today through his untiring energy, his untiring spirit. We commemorate his life. May we all take his example to our hearts. Rest in peace, President George HW Bush.

5:09 pm

Photo of Craig KellyCraig Kelly (Hughes, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

George Bush Sr, as he is known today, was inaugurated on 20 January 1989, succeeding one of America's greatest presidents, Ronald Reagan. He entered office in a period of change in the world. He witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. He was President at a time when the potential threat of nuclear war was still very real.

In his inaugural address, President Bush used these words:

I come before you and assume the Presidency at a moment rich with promise. We live in a peaceful, prosperous time, but we can make it better. For a new breeze is blowing, and a world refreshed by freedom seems reborn; for in man's heart, if not in fact, the day of the dictator is over. The totalitarian era is passing, its old ideas blown away like leaves from an ancient, lifeless tree. A new breeze is blowing, and a nation refreshed by freedom stands ready to push on. There is new ground to be broken, and new action to be taken.

Men like George Bush made this world a greater place. The riches and the prosperity that we enjoy today were hard to imagine at the time that former President Bush was born. On behalf of all my constituents in the electorate of Hughes, we send our condolences to George Bush's family and the people of the United States of America.

5:11 pm

Photo of Kevin AndrewsKevin Andrews (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for Hughes. May I just add briefly my comments of condolence to the family of the late President Bush? I was here in this parliament in early 1992 when President George HW Bush addressed the parliament. It was the first formal instituted sitting of parliament in which a visitor such of his stature addressed the parliament. There had been previous occasions, going back over the decades, where others had addressed the parliament, but this was first time that it was formally constituted on that occasion, and so it was a great occasion.

I won't repeat the words, but I join with the comments of many other honourable members in relation to the late President Bush. As his son George W Bush put it:

The mission was not George H. W. Bush, the mission was: how do we serve the United States? How do we help the United States? How do we make the United States better? Which is very important in establishing a culture that can succeed.

I think those words are memorable, they are very true and we can apply them to ourselves and to this country as well. May he rest in peace.