Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


Hon. Kim Edward Beazley, AC

6:02 pm

Photo of Robert RayRobert Ray (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

It was quite a moving funeral service for Kim Beazley, and I thought it was a testament to him that six former Labor leaders attended. I do not think I have seen a bigger gathering of former Labor leaders. I express from the Labor Party’s point of view, too, our appreciation to the many Liberal members of parliament who attended the funeral, right in the middle of a vigorous election campaign. It was a great tribute you gave him to turn up and to see him off in the way you did.

At the funeral my memory went back to 1966, to a lounge room in East Bentley. The Henty Young Labor Association had as a guest speaker that night Kim Beazley. He was the first federal politician I had ever met. He came along and gave up the whole night to address just 15 members, and he was inspiring. I probably would not say that I share a lot of things in common with him in terms of religion and other things but, as a young 18-year-old, I found him absolutely inspiring as a federal member of parliament. We all used to listen to parliament in those days, so every time I knew he was due to speak we would always listen to parliament to hear him.

Mention has been made today of Kim Beazley’s contribution in the education area, but I think one point has been overlooked. It was not so much his passion for kids and what he did for them: his activities helped mark the end of sectarianism in this country as we knew it. This country, up until 1970, had a great sectarian divide between Catholics and Protestants. The police forces were divided. Political parties were divided on these lines. Indeed, on occasions even our national cricket side divided on these lines. His great contribution—and he was not alone in it; he had friends on the other side of the House who contributed—was that around 1970 to 1972, almost overnight, sectarianism disappeared in this country. We are a much greater country for it, and Kim Beazley contributed enormously to that.

Not many people in Australian politics have been successful in politics when they have succeeded a prime minister in their seat. If you look back at all those individuals who have inherited or taken over a seat from a prime minister, you see that very few have succeeded. You might argue that Andrew Peacock did in Menzies. You can argue, certainly, for Kim Beazley. But for most people the anticipation is just too great and they never amount to having the sort of career their predecessor had. Several people have talked today about how soul destroying it must have been for him to be in opposition so long, but I have to say that that was the norm at the time. If you were a Tasmanian Liberal, you would have been in opposition for 33 years, from 1935 to 1968, as you would have been if you were a Liberal member in New South Wales from 1941 to 1965 or a Labor member in Victoria from 1955 to 1982. And imagine being a Liberal or a Country Party member in Queensland where you were only in power for 2½ years out of 42. So it was quite a common thing in Australian history. But at least you did not have to travel every week or every second week from Western Australia to the national capital.

Kim Beazley was one of five members of the House of Representatives on the Labor side who saw out the entire time, from 1949 to 1972. Arthur Calwell saw out the 23 years of opposition. Charlie Griffiths did so and made, I think, six speeches in that entire 23 years. There were also Clyde Cameron and Fred Daly. So five of them spent the 23 years in opposition. I look at the two Liberals opposite who spent 13 years in opposition here. You know how long it is, and we have just spent 11½ years. Imagine almost doubling that, being in opposition for that long and having the persistence to stay involved—an absolutely remarkable quality, I think.

John Faulkner alluded to it but did not really expand on a much tougher thing that Kim Beazley had to do. Kim Beazley was an outsider. He was an outsider in his own state branch and for several years never knew, from day to day, week to week, whether he would be expelled. That is a very hard political life, when you keep your faith, when you keep your principles. They were at odds. And this was in an era when, in Western Australia and Victoria, the democratic centralism was only excelled by the politburo in Moscow—nowhere else. This was a time when there was no tolerance of another point of view, and no real will to win. That is where the modern Labor Party at least has changed and is different. And he had to live through the frustration of that, knowing that he was not appreciated by his own state branch and, quite often, by his own federal caucus. Yet he overcame all that—odds that would have daunted most of us and  led us to give it away. So he lived his life very much as the outsider.

It is also true to say that his biggest disappointment in politics came late in his political life. He bore a great shame about the Iraqi loans affair in 1976, and so he should have. It was the lowest moment in the history of the Australian Labor Party—a matter that I am still ashamed about. But you learn from those mistakes; you do not give up. But it was a horrendous moment for him. He resigned from the front bench and left politics a year and a half later, in 1977. I am sorry he went out that way, but he did not, of course, just say, ‘Well, that’s it.’ He went on to give meritorious service in education inquiries and, as the leader has referred to, the inquiry into parliamentary privilege in Western Australia. He went on to be a constructive citizen for the rest of his life.

Of course, we know him partly from knowing him and partly through the prism of his son, someone I admire immensely. It was a very tough time for Kim Beazley Jr. As those who were at the funeral know, he spoke magnificently about his father, something that must have been very difficult for him to do. So could I pass on my condolences to his family and his friends and, again, thank all those who made the effort in the middle of an election campaign to attend his funeral.


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