House debates

Thursday, 8 September 2022


Brown, Hon. Robert James (Bob), AM

11:22 am

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is an honour to be able to rise in this chamber today to speak to a condolence motion marking the passing of the Hon. Robert James—or 'Bob', as we all knew him—Brown AM.

Bob was so committed to political life that he actually served in all three levels of government. He was first an alderman and mayor to Cessnock City Council—and I know my good colleague the member for Paterson, who is in this chamber, would be all too familiar with the work of Bob Brown in her part of the world, just as we were in Newcastle. As I said, he first served in the Cessnock City Council as an alderman—as we called them in those days—and then later as mayor. He became mayor in 1968, I believe, and then he served again, a second stint, there at Cessnock council from 1974 through to 1980.

He then became the state member for Cessnock, where he dutifully served from 1970 to 1980, a decade, at Macquarie Street, in Sydney. He resigned as the state member in order to contest the federal seat of Hunter, which he won. He served in this House of Representatives from 1980 to 1984, and later he was elected as the federal member for the very newly formed seat of Charlton, which he held until he retired in 1998. I'm sure there are some people—perhaps my good friend sitting opposite—who might recall serving in parliament with Bob in those days.

During his tenure as the federal member for both the Hunter and Charlton, Bob was elevated to the position of Minister for Land and Transport under the Hawke and Keating governments from 1988 through to 1993. He was a lover of the Land and Transport portfolio and made a lot of contributions during that time—way too many to list. Perhaps some of my colleagues might go through those. In addition to his extraordinary political career, spanning all three levels of government and decades of service, Bob was also a teacher both in profession and in life. He travelled vast distances across Australia to teach. He did a placement in Deniliquin in the New South Wales Riverina area, as well as in many other local high schools. He also did a two-year stint as a deputy principal in New South Wales.

Above all, Bob was such a passionate man for his community and, indeed, his family. He was involved in literally everything. I recall him being a very active member in the Lions Club and the footy club, he was a life patron of the Australian Workers Heritage Centre, he was director of the Kurri Kurri Hospital—a project I know he held very dear to his heart—and a member of the Hunter District Water Board. He even founded a local museum to preserve the rich heritage of the Hunter region, which was renamed earlier this year in his honour—and very rightfully so. In 2007 he was named in the Queen's Birthday honours for his service to the Australian parliament, particularly in the area of transport policy and for his service to the community of the Hunter region through local government, his works in heritage, and his contribution to a number of sporting organisations and economics education. He was a teacher his whole life, regardless of what title or profession he held.

Bob now rests with his wife, Joy, and I extend my sincere condolences to the entire family, including the grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He had a very rich and full family life indeed. Today I speak particularly to Bob's son, Brad, and his daughter, Kelly Hoare, who also served in this parliament as the member for Charlton and gave me a break as a very young woman wanting to get some experience. She took me on as a casual in her electorate office in Charlton, and I am very indebted to her for that opportunity as well. Kelly Hoare went on to succeed her father as the member for Charlton in this place.

I hope that the family take some heart in knowing that our local communities and Bob's colleagues in this place are paying tribute to him but also thinking very dearly of his legacy and his family that remains with us. We have the utmost respect for Bob, his perseverance, and his unwaning dedication to politics in our region, and for that we will always be very deeply thankful. May he rest in peace.

11:29 am

Photo of Meryl SwansonMeryl Swanson (Paterson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with great sadness and great pride that I stand here today to pay tribute to Bob Brown, as he was so fondly known to all of us in our local area. I want to acknowledge my friend and colleague the member for Newcastle and say that the Browns, in their way, have touched so many of us across the Hunter. Brown is a name synonymous with the Hunter. Rather than repeat many of the facts that have been given about Bob, I'd like to share a couple of my own personal stories and interactions about him and how he influenced not only me but my community and my family

Bob was born in Pelaw Main, in the now seat of Paterson, and he married and raised a family in Kurri Kurri. I remember the house where he and Joy lived with Kelly and Brad. We'd always drive past Bob and Joy's house. Bob was a teacher at Kurri high, where I went to school and where my sisters went to school. My eldest sister, Adele Johns, said that Bob was the most influential teacher in her life. And that's really saying something. Adele finished school in year 11. She didn't actually matriculate, as you did in those days. She's a little bit older than me, 18 years my senior. She went on to work and had a career. But, later in life, she went back and did an enabling program at the University of Newcastle and her HSC and qualified as a speech pathologist. But it was Bob who sparked that fire for learning, and she credits him with that.

Bob used to come to our school as the federal member. I can still remember him standing in front of us all in the assembly hall on Benefactors Day, regaling us with stories of our history, what he was doing in parliament and how we mattered as kids from Kurri high. He lit that fire in me for politics. I will never, never be able to thank him enough. I was enamoured by Bob. I truly loved him. I thought he was spectacular. Then, after I was successfully elected as the member for Paterson, he continued to correspond with me. I'd see him at functions. Indeed, we were at the inauguration and blessing of the memorial gates at Pelaw Main Primary School, where he went to school. He told me so many stories about growing up in Pelaw Main.

He was immensely proud of our area. He also had a great love and affection for working people, particularly those who worked in our coal industry. He was, of course, a giant of a man in terms of his intellect. Even just a few months ago, when his body—I'm sure he won't mind me saying it—was starting to fail him, his mobility was in question, but his mind was incredible. He stood at the opening of the new Sir Edgeworth David Memorial Museum at Abermain, the old school of the arts, and named every colliery and pit head that had existed. In granular detail, he gave the geology of the area. This was a man whose mind did not fail him. He was quite remarkable. I said to him that day, 'Bob, you never cease to amaze me.' And he said, 'Well, Meryl, life and learning is the thing that's amazing.' His great gift was the love of learning and passing it on to the rest of us.

Bob left a long legacy in terms of his service to his community. That's absolutely undisputed. He planted the seeds and we're all now reaping the benefits of that harvest. He created in many people, not just me, a love of community and a love of service to that community, and a hunger for learning and a hunger to make our area, whatever area, better. He did that right up until his very last days. I spent time with him and Joy when he visited her nearly every day in Salamander when her health was failing. They reflected on a life of adventure across regional New South Wales as young teachers and having children, and Bob writing economics textbooks. Joy, in her own right, was a leader as well and a person of great intellect. I feel that the Brown legacy will live on not only in Kelly and Brad, who have their own wonderful achievements and their own wonderful families. It just goes to show that you can leave a lasting, deep and meaningful legacy in public life, but often in ways that you will never know or know of. May he rest in peace. Good on you, Bob.

11:35 am

Photo of Pat ConroyPat Conroy (Shortland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Defence Industry) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to make a contribution on the condolence motion for the Hon. Bob Brown AM, the former member for Charlton and Hunter. Having served in this place as the member for Charlton myself—in fact, as the last member for Charlton—I know what an honour it is to be a voice for the constituents of Charlton in this place. Unfortunately, the seat of Charlton was renamed Hunter in the 2016 redistribution, and there is no member for Charlton currently in the House. At that time, I became the member for Shortland, and my colleague the member for Hunter now represents about 55 per cent of the constituents of the old Charlton, while I represent about 25 percent, and the rest are in the member for Newcastle's electorate.

Although I did not know Bob personally, his reputation precedes him. I could go to any meeting of the mighty West Wallsend branch of the Labor Party and the presence and legacy of Bob was always there. He was a fierce advocate for the working people he represented in this place, and he had an abiding commitment to the Labor movement—both its industrial and political wings.

I'd like to acknowledge Bob's service at all three levels of government that we have in our federation: his time as a councillor and mayor of Cessnock; his time as state member for Cessnock; and his federal service as a member for Hunter from 1980 to 1984 and then as member for Charlton from 1984 until his retirement in 1998. Not many Australians have such a love of public service as to serve at all three levels of government. I'd also like to recognise Bob's ministerial career, serving as Minister for Land Transport and Shipping Support from 1988 to 1990, and thereafter as Minister for Land Transport until 1993.

Bob's service was recognised in 2007, when he was named a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to the Australian parliament, particularly in the area of transport policy; to the community of the Hunter region through his local government, heritage and sporting organisations; and to economics education. Being an economist myself by training, I would say that the people of Charlton certainly benefited from having Bob in this place. I know that he wrote the economics textbook that was the official textbook for the New South Wales school system.

His commitment to his community and the great Australian Labor Party was evident from his first speech in this House, on 2 December 1980, when he said:

May I say how privileged I feel in the first place to be able to represent the electors of Hunter and people in the wider community as the member for Hunter. I am proud to represent people with whom I have been personally associated for so long. I am here to represent people to whom I feel personally and politically committed because of their allegiance and loyalty to the Australian Labor Party and to the aspirations of the Labor movement.

I also note his selfless commitment to the party, when after the sweetest victory of all—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 11 : 38 to 11 : 5 5

As I was saying, Bob Brown's dedication to his constituents was further evidenced in his statement outlining his reasons for standing aside from the ministry in 1993, where he said:

I will have the opportunity to concentrate on my own electorate and on some areas of special interest. I express my appreciation to the ALP members and to my constituents in the Charlton electorate for their continued support and loyalty.

Mr Deputy Speaker, it won't shock you to know that members of the Australian Labor Party are dedicated to the cause of the labour movement and for workers' ability to collectively organise for decent pay and conditions. We will always fight for the rights of workers, and Bob Brown certainly exemplified this. Bob Brown, when talking about the waterfront dispute in 1998, told parliament:

Scabs are people who betray their fellow workers. They sabotage industrial action which is taken by organised workers to improve their circumstances, consolidate their gains or protect their wages and conditions. Scabs are thieves who try to improve their own position by stealing from other workers. They steal their jobs and their incomes and, in the process, seek to feed their own families with food they steal from the tables of others.

I would be interested in knowing what Bob would say about the current conflict with GrainCorp in the port of Newcastle who are looking at using strikebreaking workforces during their negotiations of the new enterprise agreement right now.

In the same speech, Bob went on to refer to the often violent birth of the Australian trade union movement, where workers were shot and killed by police at coalmines and wharves, and said:

To those who say those events were long ago, I say that we have recently seen the vile images of balaclava hooded thugs in black suits with their rottweilers, alsatians and mace sprays, as well as the darkened buses with the shrouded windows smuggling scabs on to the wharves and the mine sites. They are foul, vile, gut-wrenching images that despoil our humanity.

This passion was a product of the minefields and the coalfields of the Hunter Valley, where workers risked their livelihoods and often their lives to advance conditions such as workplace safety, where workers were shot and maimed and, in one instance, killed for taking industrial action to protect the community. This is where Bob came from, and Bob lived those values each and every day on this planet. Bob's passion for the rights of workers to collectively bargain is incredibly evident in those words.

I also want to reflect on and pay tribute to Bob's activism in the movement against the Vietnam War. In recognising the service of his predecessor, Bert James, Bob stated in his first speech:

Bert James was one of the most forthright and courageous members of the Federal Parliament and, among many of those great issues which he pursued, probably the most courageous stand which he adopted was in relation to the horrific experience of the Vietnam War. The position which Bert James adopted has been completely vindicated. There is no one today in the Australian community who is not aware of the fact that Australia became involved in the Vietnam War on the basis of lies and deceit.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 11:59 to 12:13

I was providing a quote from Bob Brown on his predecessor Bert James:

Bert James was one of the most forthright and courageous members of the Federal Parliament and, among many of those great issues which he pursued, probably the most courageous stand which he adopted was in relation to the horrific experience of the Vietnam War. The position which Bert James adopted has been completely vindicated. There is no one today in the Australian community who is not aware of the fact that Australia became involved in the Vietnam War on the basis of lies and deceit. The detail, brutality and futility of that war will stand as a permanent indictment of those shameful people who perpetrated it. It was one of the most brutalising experiences in the history of mankind.

I refer to Vietnam and the antiwar movement because of feedback I received from my friend and fellow branch member the former member for Wallsend John Mills. John stood against Bob in the preselection for the seat of Hunter in 1980, and John recalls that Bob was something of a hero locally in the late 1960s because of his brilliant organising and activism, particularly in organising marches against the Vietnam War around the Hunter.

I will end my contribution by sending Bob's family my condolences and also our best wishes and thanks for his service. To his daughter, Kelly Hoare, who also served as the member for Charlton, his son, Brad, and all his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, you can be rightly proud of this truly wonderful man whose service to the parliament of Australia we honour today.

Photo of Lisa ChestersLisa Chesters (Bendigo, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand that it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places, and I ask all those present to do so.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

I thank the Federation Chamber.

12:15 pm

Marion Scrymgour (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That further proceedings be conducted in the House.

Question agreed to.