Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


Forbes, Dr Alexander James (Jim), CMG, MC

3:35 pm

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 10 August 2019, of the Honourable Dr Alexander (Jim) Forbes CMG, MC, former Member of the House of Representatives and former Minister, places on record its appreciation for his service to the Parliament and the nation, and tenders its sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

With the passing of Dr Jim Forbes, Australia has lost the last surviving Liberal minister in the Menzies government. The Liberal Party has lost a true great, and our nation has farewelled a war veteran whose service to the nation continued long after he left the battlefield. His wife, Margaret, and their five children, Sarah, Emma, Alexander, David and Anna, have laid to rest a loving, caring and remarkable husband, father and man. We share in their loss and mourn with them.

In politics, people come and go. Governments come and go. But Jim was different. He spanned the decades. His political career was one of longevity, spanning the terms of five prime ministers. But his endurance was not confined to political life; aged 95 at the time of his passing, Jim outlived almost all of his contemporaries. In this place today, we remember, celebrate and are grateful for Jim's life of service.

Jim was born in Hobart on 16 December 1923. He was educated at Knox Grammar School in Sydney and at St Peter's College in Adelaide. At the age of 16 Jim enlisted and attended the Royal Military College at Duntroon. He graduated the day before his 19th birthday and went on to serve in the Second World War with the 2nd Australian Mountain Battery. He was deployed to New Guinea, Bougainville, Japan and Germany. A dedicated and courageous soldier, Jim was awarded the Military Cross in 1945 for his gallant and distinguished service in the South West Pacific. Exceptional military courage ran in the family; Jim's father received a Military Cross during the First World War, and his brother Patrick was later awarded the medal during the Korean War.

After his discharge from the Army in 1947 Jim studied an arts degree at the University of Adelaide and later earned a PhD in political science at the University of Oxford. He married Margaret Blackburn at Oxford in 1952 and returned to Adelaide to tutor in politics. He and Margaret had five children together.

Jim's interest in politics had come to the fore in 1948. He was elected president of the Mount Lofty branch of the Liberal and Country League in South Australia and was the founding president of the Adelaide University Liberal Union. In 1956 Jim won the Barker by-election in South Australia and held the seat until his retirement in 1975. In parliament he was forthright in his views and became a member of the 'Oxbridge group', the name given by journalists to a set of outspoken Liberal backbenchers who had studied at Oxford and Cambridge.

During an official visit to Indonesia, Malaya and the Cocos Islands in 1959, Jim got to know Prime Minister Robert Menzies well. Menzies admired that Jim had graduated from the Royal Military College and served overseas. After the 1963 election Jim was elevated to the ministry as Minister for the Army and, very briefly, Minister for the Navy in the Menzies government. He advocated for a selective national service scheme at a time when the Army was under-resourced. The Menzies government argued the scheme was in the national interest, and the law passed. Jim later recalled the system not being very popular, but he believed it was a fair system and was prepared to take responsibility for it. Jim had seen active service as a teenager, holding out the Japanese in dense jungle in New Guinea, and was well qualified to make that judgement. That is what is part of being a political leader—making judgements and decisions you know may not be popular right now but are in the best interests of your country. That takes courage, and Jim had courage in spades. In sending troops to Vietnam, Jim demonstrated that Australia was a dependable ally and helped strengthen our alliance with the United States. Our relationship with the US remains just as important today.

When Harold Holt succeeded Menzies as Prime Minister in 1966, Jim became health minister. He felt the new portfolio enabled him to really be a politician. Jim believed wealth should not define a person's health, so he introduced a new national health scheme that prioritised medical services for those on low incomes. As the Minister for Immigration in William McMahon's government, Jim oversaw the continued dismantling of the White Australia policy, helping to create the diverse, multicultural society Australia is today. He was a principled member of parliament who cared for his nation and always strived to advance our society and our interests. Jim retired in 1975, but he was never far removed from politics after leaving parliament. In 1979 he was elected South Australian state president of the Liberal Party, and he became the party's federal president in 1982. During his time in parliament, Jim served with distinction, as he had done during his time in the armed forces. The former member for Barker was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in recognition of his service to the parliament, and in 2001 he received a Centenary Medal.

To Margaret and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren: thank you for sharing Jim with our nation. On behalf of the Australian government and the Senate, and in tribute to a remarkable man whose life was one of distinguished service in uniform and in parliament, we offer you our sincerest condolences. Rest in peace, Jim Forbes.


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