House debates

Wednesday, 13 February 2019


Scholes, Hon. Gordon Glen Denton, AO

10:31 am

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

In 1939, at about the age of eight, a young Gordon Scholes stood outside the window of the Newmarket Malvern Star bike shop. Inside, Hubert Opperman, Oppy, the famous international cyclist, one of Australia's greatest sporting heroes, was doing a demonstration. He was riding a bike on rollers, so the bike was in fact stationary. You might have seen a contraption of that kind if you've seen the cycling on TV. It is how the cyclists warm up. Oppy was there in the window and all the kids, including Gordon, were there having a look, and then suddenly the tyre on Oppy's bike burst and Oppy went flying. It was a big deal. Soon after that, Gordon was given one of his first bikes. It was a Preston Star, and he—like a lot of eight-year-olds that I know—was actually a little bit disappointed at that moment because it wasn't a Malvern Star. A Malvern Star was the bike that Oppy rode. Oppy was one of Gordon's absolute heroes, and it spoke to the fact that, from a very early age, Gordon loved sport.

Fast forward to 1966 and Gordon Scholes is the pre-selected Labor candidate for the seat of Corio and is contesting it against the sitting member, Sir Hubert Opperman, who was then the member for Corio. It is one of those ironies in life that, the first time Gordon sought public office, he found himself contesting it against that very hero who he had first seen back in 1939. He lost in that election but, not long after, in 1967, after Oppy had retired and became Australia's first High Commissioner to Malta, Gordon, in the by-election which ensued, achieved an 11 per cent swing and was elected the member for Corio, a post he held until 1993. Until this time, he has been the longest-serving member for Corio.

His had a distinguished career in this place. He was, in the first term of the Hawke government, between 1983 and 1984, Australia's Minister for Defence. In the second term, from 1984 to 1987, he was Australia's Minister for Territories. But he is perhaps most remembered in these halls, and commemorated in the really beautiful portrait which hangs in the Member's Hall, for the fact that, between 1974 and 1975, he was the Speaker of the House of Representatives—and he was the Speaker of the House of Representatives on that famous day, 11 November 1975.

The facts of that day are well known: the no-confidence motion; the waiting outside Government House that Gordon did with the outcome of that motion seeking to see the Governor-General; and, of course, the election which then ensued. It was, perhaps, the moment when our democracy was stretched and strained the furthest since Federation. It was a very difficult day for this place and for the Australian parliament. But what's important is not so much, in the context of Gordon, the outcome of those events but what people on all sides said about Gordon's conduct as the Speaker on that day. I've spoken to many senior conservatives—former prime ministers—who were there on that day and made the point that, during all of that, Gordon kept his head when others were losing theirs. He was cool and he was calm. That fact alone, on that day, means that all of us owe Gordon Scholes an enormous debt of gratitude.

For my part, on my becoming the member for Corio, Gordon was incredibly generous to me in terms of the advice he gave and welcoming me into the role that I now hold, and it is an honour for me, being the member for Corio, to be in that line of succession which has Gordon in it.

His interests went well beyond politics. He was, as I mentioned, a keen sports fan but also a keen sportsman. In 1949 he was the Victorian amateur heavyweight boxing champion. He played golf off a handicap of six at the East Geelong Golf Club, a golf course which is right next to where I live now, and I'm very familiar with it. If you go up to the pool room here—a room that some members never discover—you'll find there an honour board which notes that Gordon Scholes was the parliamentary snooker champion on many occasions. This was obviously a guy who had talent in his hands and his fingers, and he was a very keen sports fan. I spent yesterday with his daughters, Kerry and Anne, who talked about the fact that, whenever he watched boxing on TV, he'd be in his chair and he would be doing the moves. He was right in that ring with whoever was on the TV. He loved it all. He was a devoted Cats fan, I'm sure encouraged by his very close friendship with Neil Trezise, who was a state member in the Geelong region, across a couple of seats, and was the Victorian minister for sport during the Cain government.

He was a keen photographer and took many photos around Melbourne during the 1956 Olympics. He was a prodigious stamp-collector, such that in his last house—Kerry and Anne said to me today—which was a small house that only had two rooms, one of them was the room that Gordon lived in and the other room was where his stamp collection was. He was an honorary life member of the Geelong Philatelic Society. Kerry and Anne, his daughters, talk about the enormous number of boxes that they now have full of Gordon's memorabilia, and they were seeking my advice yesterday as to what to do with them. I had no advice to give.

He was clearly a really devoted family man. You really get the feeling of that when talking with Kerry and Anne. I'm sure that were his wife, Della, alive today she would attest to that as well. There is the wonderful story of how, as a train driver—and that's what he was before he entered parliament—when he was driving the train through Breakwater in Geelong, which is near where their family house was, he would do nine bursts on the whistle to let his daughters know that this was a train which he was aboard. He would make regular phone calls from Canberra. He would do his shopping at Corio Village—something I grew up doing—with his children, although they said that they would often try to pretend they had nothing to do with him! Of course, my recollections of Gordon are at a later age, when I was doing street stalls around Geelong at various markets, and he was a regular attender of those markets till his last days.

He, like all of us in this building, I think, felt the constant dilemma of trying to balance family with political life here. It's undoubtedly the hardest part of the life that we live. When you speak with Kerry and Anne, in painful ways you can see how that battle played out from the perspective of his children—those calls that were made on Christmas Day that took him away from a conversation at the family table. But what's clear in those recollections from Kerry and Anne is that that battle to find a place for family in the midst of living a political life at the most senior level was a battle he fought day in, day out. They made the point that he was deeply engaged in the household, that all the decisions that were made were decisions that he talked through with his wife, Della, and he was completely devoted to Kerry and to Anne. You can absolutely hear that in their reminiscences today.

Perhaps the most significant thing, though, about Gordon was his life's journey. He went to 16 different schools by the time he was 17. He did not complete his schooling. He was a train driver, working very much at the shop floor. He was a very proud unionist and became the president of the Geelong Trades Hall Council in 1965 and 1966. He was a local councillor in the then City of Geelong between 1965 and 1967, and it was an issue about the potential closing of a kindergarten in central Geelong which particularly animated both him and Neil Trezise such that they decided that they would really take the next step, run for public office and seek to enter public life. From there, he contested Corio in 1966, won it in 1967 and the rest is history.

From the shop floor, Gordon rose to being the Speaker of Australia's House of Representatives, to being a member of Australia's cabinet; in the image of Ben Chifley, this is a journey that Labor legends are made of. But through listening to Kerry and Anne describe their father, what that journey took and how remarkable a man he was, it becomes so clear how extraordinary an achievement it is for Gordon Scholes, given the cards he was dealt with in life, to have reached the high office he ultimately did, in what must be one of the most remarkable journeys in Australian public life. Vale Gordon Scholes; we will miss him dearly.

10:41 am

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise today to pay tribute to the Hon. Gordon Scholes AO, who died on 9 December 2018. It was my great honour to attend his funeral in Geelong on 18 December 2018 representing the Prime Minister. I had the opportunity to convey my condolences to his daughters, Kerry and Anne, and, of course, convey our condolences as a parliament and on behalf of the Prime Minister.

Across the political divide, I want to put on record: Gordon Scholes was much loved and respected. He was well known to my parents. Michael, my father, was in local council. My mother was a member of parliament in the 1990s. Gordon was, for many, many years, a leading figure in our community. Of course, we have just heard from the member for Corio. As the other federal member representing Geelong, along with other parts of the Corangamite electorate, it's very important that I also stand here today and say thank you for everything that he did for our community.

It was very moving at his funeral service to hear from the former Geelong state member of parliament Ian Trezise, a very close friend of Gordon Scholes, about the contribution that he made to our community, including Gordon Scholes's involvement in bringing Deakin University to Geelong, which, according to Ian Trezise, was one of his greatest highlights. He said that we owe a great deal to the involvement of Mr Scholes, who understood the power of education and the importance of strong regional growth.

Gordon Scholes is widely remembered as a loyal and respected man who fought very hard for the people he represented from 1967 through to 1993. He was re-elected 10 times—no mean feat. He loved his constituents and he went into politics for all the right reasons. He was very disappointed with the prospective closure of a local kindergarten, and he took up the fight. As a result of that fight, he decided to enter politics. He made us all very proud in our community, and I put all politics aside. He made us very proud. We didn't always have to agree with everything, of course, that he stood for as a member of the Labor Party, but, as a force to be reckoned with and as a leader in the Geelong community for such a long time, as I say, he was widely loved and respected.

Gordon Scholes was a member of the Australian Labor Party. He joined in 1955. He was President of the Geelong ALP branch from 1962 to 1964 and President of the Geelong Trades Hall Council from 1965 to 1966. He was also a Geelong councillor from 1965 to 1967. He loved the parliament, as we heard yesterday from the Prime Minister, and he served in a number of very distinguished roles. After the election of the Hawke government, he served as the Minister for Defence from 1983 to 1984 and as Minister for Territories from 1984 to 1987. He was also the Speaker from 27 February 1975 to 16 February 1976, a period which encompassed the dismissal of the Whitlam government—the most tumultuous time in our country's political history, I think it is fair to say. He was a stable force in the tide of great unrest at that time. Gordon Scholes was well recognised as someone who did a very good job in the seat of the Speaker at a very difficult time in our nation's history. Again, I convey my condolences to Kerry and to Anne, to his family, and I say: vale, Gordon Scholes. Thank you.

Photo of Craig LaundyCraig Laundy (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member. I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

I thank the Chamber.

10:46 am

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.