House debates

Thursday, 4 August 2022


Webster, Hon. James Joseph

1:59 pm

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the House record its deep regret at the death, on 3 April 2022, of the Honourable James Joseph Webster, a former Minister and Senator for the State of Victoria from 1964 to 1980, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

In the space of just two years, Senator Jim Webster lost a High Court case seeking an injunction against a joint sitting of parliament following the 1974 double dissolution election but won a High Court case against allegations he was in breach of section 44. He was what the papers call an outspoken backbencher and a meticulous, combative minister. Now, to mark a sometimes rugged public life, we offer the tranquil courtesy of a condolence motion in recognition of his service to our nation.

The youngest of three boys, Jim was left to work the family farm at Greenvale during the Second World War while his brothers served. In 1964, upon the death of Senator Harrie Wade, he was chosen to fill the casual vacancy—the beginning of 16 years as a senator for Victoria.

A glance at the late senator's pre-parliamentary CV reveals a seeming mass of contradictions: a delegate to the Timber Workers Union and a member of the Young Country Party; a member of the Waterside Workers Federation and the junior chamber of commerce. Some might imagine he was a mere contrarian. After all, as a newly elected senator he voted against the establishment of several committees that he then went on to serve on. But I think two words take us to the core of the paradox and the heart of the man: agrarian socialism. Jim Webster was one of those old-school Country Party representatives who believed very much in government intervention, whether it was more funding for select irrigation projects, tax breaks for timber plantations, new subsidies for rural industries or more support for tobacco growers. He knew what he believed, he knew what mattered to the people he represented, and he fought for it fiercely and frequently.

Later on, he went on to serve in the first two terms of the Fraser government, first as the Minister for Science and, after 1978, as the Minister for Science and the Environment. He had quite a record during this period. During his time in the portfolio, Kakadu was declared a national park, whaling was banned in Australian waters, new support was given to the CSIRO and progress was made in preserving the Australian Antarctic Territory, which the senator visited twice and where Webster Bay still bears his name. He had a farmer's respect for the land and an explorer's love of beautiful places.

He left the Senate in January 1980 to take up the post of Australian High Commissioner to New Zealand—four more years of service to the nation in a long life that was well lived. We honour him today and extend the respect of the parliament to his family and, in particular, to those people who knew him in the National Party. May he rest in peace.

2:03 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

I join the Prime Minister in his fine words honouring the life of former senator James Joseph Webster. Born in 1925 on Flinders Island, Jim moved with his farming family to the outskirts of Melbourne as a child. As a student, he ran the family farm while his older brothers served in the war, but he was prepared to serve himself, joining the Air Training Corps. He worked as a clerk in a log mill and as a tally man on Melbourne's wharves before joining his grandfather's timber, hardware and plumbing business.

He filled a vacancy in the Senate in '64 and was re-elected through the sixties and seventies and served until 1980. In his first speech, Jim spoke about the values he shared with his party: those of free enterprise and minimal government intervention. He stated:

I pray that we shall retain in this country a system whereby freedom of the individual is paramount.

Under Prime Minister Fraser, he served as the Minister for Science and the Environment. He championed Australia's research in the Antarctic, the banning of whaling in our waters, the work of the CSIRO and our film and television industries. He was Deputy Leader and then Leader of the Country Party in the Senate. He also held the positions of Deputy President of the Senate and Chairman of Committees. As the Prime Minister pointed out, after leaving office he became Australia's High Commissioner to New Zealand, before, most importantly, returning to where he started, farming the land. On behalf of the Liberal Party, I offer my heartfelt condolences to Jim's colleagues, community, friends and family, especially his four children, Simon, James, Andrew and Tim.

2:05 pm

Photo of David LittleproudDavid Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their fine words. On behalf of the federal National Party, we honour the memory and pay our deepest respects to the life of Jim Webster, a Victorian senator for the National/Country Party, who served for 16 years in the parliament. He passed away on 3 April this year. Jim leaves behind him an incredible and distinguished legacy. He was a former leader of our party in the Senate and a former minister for science and the environment, who served in the Fraser government.

Throughout his entire career, Jim was a faithful servant of the Country Party and the National Party and the people of regional Victoria. Born in Tasmania and moving to a farm near Melbourne when he was four years old, Jim was a keen student at Caulfield Grammar, before running the family farm while his older brothers served in World War II. It was during this time, when his father served in the Victorian parliament, that Jim became active in the Australian Country Party, which ultimately led to his nomination in 1964 to fill a casual vacancy of the Senate.

During his political career, among Jim's most significant achievements include his work for the environment and for Australia's Antarctic research efforts, establishing the national maritime science research centre in Hobart and the CSIRO's Australian Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong. Another tremendous achievement that Jim secured was his work in ending pirate whaling. He was instrumental in introducing the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Jim's service to Australia did not end with his time in the Senate. After his resignation in 1980 followed his appointment as Australia's High Commissioner to New Zealand, a position he held for four years, before returning to farming in his home state of Victoria.

On behalf of the National Party family and this entire House, we extend our sincere condolences to Jim's loved ones, his four sons and four grandchildren, and express our heartfelt gratitude for his tireless service to Australia. May he rest in peace.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

As a mark of respect to the memory of the Hon. James Joseph Webster, I ask all present to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

I thank the House.

Debate adjourned.