Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023


Hayden, Hon. William George (Bill), AC

4:16 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | Hansard source

I too associate myself with the remarks of the Senator Wong, Senator Birmingham and others who have made contributions about Bill Hayden as well. I wasn't going to list Bill Hayden's achievements as others have done but I do believe that no federal Labor figure out of Queensland has a more significant record of achievement in the federal parliament than Mr Hayden, so it is a phenomenal record of success.

I want to focus on two aspects of Mr Hayden's contribution to public life that are more specific to Queensland and Queensland Labor. The first goes back to 1975 after the defeat of the Whitlam government, when Bill Hayden was the only federal Labor MP left standing in Queensland. He had an enormous burden placed on his shoulders following that election loss from Whitlam. Inside the party, we often romanticise the Whitlam government but it was an emphatic rejection, unfortunately, by the Australian people.

At the Queensland state election the year before, Queensland Labor had been reduced to what was infamously called the 'cricket team' of 11 seats. If you think about the status of Queensland Labor in the mid-seventies, we were in a terrible state of decay and it really was Bill Hayden, as leader and most significant Labor person in Queensland, who was responsible for rebuilding the party in that state. What it eventually led to, particularly post Bill Hayden becoming opposition leader in 1977, was federal intervention in the Queensland branch and the modernisation of the Queensland Labor Party. Ironically, the first beneficiary of that was Bob Hawke and, as many people have mentioned, Mr Hayden stood aside just before that election was called in 1983. But the reality is, at that election in 1983 in Queensland, we went from five seats to 10 and we won 10 of 19 seats. So federal Labor won more than 50 per cent of the seats in Queensland. We haven't been able to replicate that since and, I have no doubt, it wouldn't have been achieved if it wasn't for the hard work of Bill Hayden reforming the Queensland branch and making it electable. He obviously did this across the country federally but it was a particularly relevant in Queensland because we had been out of power at the state level for so long.

I have no doubt if it wasn't for the work of Mr Hayden that we wouldn't have had the Wayne Goss premiership six years later in 1989 as well, which led to what has effectively been 30 of the last 34 years in Queensland of a state Labor government thanks to those reforms. The legacy of Bill Hayden towards Queensland Labor's modern success is significant. I wanted to make sure it was put on the record, and it should not be forgotten.

The second aspect I wanted to talk about was when Bill Hayden re-joined the Labor party in 2005 after having a period out of when serving as Governor-General. He regularly attended branch meetings—and as a current senator I can't say I'm a regular attendee at branch meetings these days—in the North Ipswich and Somerset branches, and I think it's admirable to continue to make a contribution after all he had achieved in his long period in public life, that he was someone who was so committed to the party that he wanted to continue to make a contribution.

It wasn't long after he re-joined that I became state secretary and got to know Bill Hayden. One aspect of his that became very clear to me was how astute he was. In Bill Hayden's funeral booklet, there are some words of remembrance from Barry Jones: that he had a copper's instinct. I hadn't thought of that, but it made sense to me with some of my interactions with Bill Hayden, how astute he was at summing up people and identifying problems. I was able to benefit from that copper's instinct. A couple of instances come to mind where I was able to use that instinct. In 2014 we were facing a by-election in the seat of Griffith following the election loss in 2013. Kevin Rudd retired, and we had a really tough by-election on our hands at the time. At the same time, there was a by-election in the seat of Redcliffe. We had gone down to seven seats, and if we won Redcliffe it would have got us to eight seats, and we were really determined to win Griffith at the same time. I was state secretary, really busy with two by-elections, when a call came through to my office saying, 'Mr Hayden wants to talk to me.' I was really busy with the by-election, but of course I took the call from someone who is a custodian of the party. I had a chat with Bill Hayden where he provided an insight to me, through a relative of his who was in a nursing home in Griffith, about what elderly residents were thinking, particularly ones who had lived in Griffith for a long time and had a real affinity to the previous member, Kevin Rudd. He persuaded me that we needed to do something about that, so we sent a letter to everyone over a certain age who had lived in Griffith and was a long-term resident in that area. I'm confident that this had a significant impact on the result, because we won that by-election by only a couple of hundred votes. Being able to see how his mind operated and how astute he was, I could get a sense of why he was so successful in his political career.

Another instance occurred in the lead-up to the 2015 state election in Queensland, where we had been reduced to the seven seats, as I said before. I got a phone call from Bill Hayden and I took the call. We were trying to reclaim a lot of seats we had lost in Ipswich, which was traditional Labor Party heartland. Bill's insight and his passion for Ipswich and knowledge stayed with him throughout his whole life. He was able to provide some insights into what was happening on the ground and some character traits of our candidates that were probably less than desired. But he was so well plugged in and so astute that he was able to provide things to me that proved true at the time and only proved truer, as history has borne out. I get a sense of what he would have been like throughout his whole career and why he was able to make such a significant contribution. I certainly know that I have benefited from his astuteness, his wisdom and his experience, and there would be so many others not only within the party but also within broader communities across Australia who would have benefited as well.

As I said at the start, Bill Hayden has made as significant a contribution as anyone from Queensland Labor has made to federal parliament. It is a remarkable record: a phenomenal list of achievements as minister, a proud record as opposition leader, and a lasting record of reform for Queensland Labor. I feel fortunate to have benefited from Mr Hayden's wisdom and experience. I was also able to gain an insight from that into his love and pride for his family. My thoughts and prayers are with Dallas, Georgina, Ingrid and Kirk, and I wish them all the best. Vale, Bill Hayden.

Question agreed to, honourable senators joining in a moment of silence.


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