Senate debates

Tuesday, 7 November 2006


Hon. Sir Allen Fairhall, KBE

3:31 pm

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (Queensland, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death, on 3 November 2006, of the Honourable Sir Allen Fairhall, a former minister and member of the House of Representatives for the division of Paterson, New South Wales, from 1949 to 1969.

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance and Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death on 3 November 2006 of The Honourable Sir Allen Fairhall KBE, former Federal Minister and Member for Paterson, New South Wales, and that the Senate places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Allen Fairhall was born on 24 November 1909 at Morpeth, near Maitland, in the lower Hunter Valley, New South Wales. He was the third son of Charles and Maud Fairhall. Allen was educated at the East Maitland Boys High School and later at the Newcastle Technical College. He served an apprenticeship as an electrical fitter at the Walsh Island Dockyard, Newcastle, becoming a qualified tradesman in the field. While at school Allen became interested in radio, and he began broadcasting music on Sunday mornings from his family home, using a gramophone and borrowed records. In 1931, when he was only 22, he founded the commercial broadcasting station 2KO Newcastle, operating with a 13-metre timber mast in his backyard. Radio 2KO grew to be one of Australia’s leading provincial radio stations. In 1942, he became President of the Australian Federation of Commercial Broadcasting Stations.

From 1941 to 1944, Allen Fairhall was an alderman of Newcastle City Council, and served the city as a wartime warden in the Civil Emergency Services. During World War II, Allen was also coopted by the Ministry of Munitions to become supervising engineer of the Radio and Signals Supply Section in New South Wales. He was responsible for the production of wireless, signals and radar equipment for the armed services.

In 1947, he sold his broadcasting interests and took up dairy farming at Trevallyn, on the Paterson River. Sir Allen entered federal parliament as the member for Paterson in 1949, and he held that seat for the Liberal Party until his retirement on 12 November 1969. Sir Allen Fairhall was one of the famous ‘forty-niners’, that special group of parliamentarians who were elected in the 1949 poll that ushered in more than 20 years of Liberal and National party government.

Early in his parliamentary career, Allen attended the 10th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York in 1954 as a member of the Australian delegation, and was the first backbench member of the federal parliament to be included in the Australian mission.

Sir Allen was appointed Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works in 1956 by Prime Minister Menzies and was Chairman of the Parliamentary Public Works Committee between 1958 and 1961. He was appointed as the Minister for Supply in December 1961, and was reappointed to that portfolio within the cabinet after the election in 1963. He was a senior member of the cabinet from that time on. When the Holt government was formed in January 1966, Allen Fairhall was appointed Minister for Defence, a position he held until his retirement.

Throughout his career he spoke of the evils of socialism, saying that ‘socialism denies the opportunity to a fellow to succeed on his merits’. Many people saw Allen Fairhall as a possible candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party, and therefore the prime ministership, after Harold Holt’s death in 1967, but he declined to be nominated. Causing a stir at the time was an advertisement published in the Australian newspaper in July 1968 by a group describing themselves as ‘Businessmen for a Democratic Government’ which called for people to write to their local Liberal MP, calling for Allen Fairhall to be Prime Minister.

In 1966 he was chosen by the Institution of Production Engineers to receive the James N Kirby Medal for his role in the development of defence production industries. After 20 years in parliament, including 11 years as a minister, Sir Allen retired in 1969. Media commentators were very complimentary about the contribution of this talented frontbencher to political life. Upon the announcement of his retirement, the Daily Telegraph stated:

Mr Fairhall’s retirement will be a great loss not only to Parliament, but to the whole of Australia.

He has shown qualities of drive and commonsense. He represents all that is best in politics and he leaves his office with the knowledge that he has his country’s thanks and respect.

In 1970, Allen Fairhall’s years of public service were recognised by his appointment as a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In later life he returned to private enterprise, as well as writing several books. Sir Allen died just shy of his 97th birthday—a wonderful achievement.

On behalf of the government, I offer my condolences to his wife, Lady Monica Fairhall, his son, Allen, and his extended family, and wish them all the very best.

3:36 pm

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the opposition, I would like to join with Senator Minchin and support the motion of condolence following the death of the Hon. Sir Allen Fairhall. Sir Allen served for 20 years in the House of Representatives in various ministerial posts, including that of Minister for Defence. He was clearly a very distinguished parliamentarian. I extend our sincere condolences to his family and friends at this time.

He was born in New South Wales in 1909 and was educated at East Maitland High School. By 1929, at the start of the Great Depression, he had completed his apprenticeship as an electrical fitter and engineer. He was a lifelong radio enthusiast. In the same year he began making Sunday morning radio broadcasts from the family home using a gramophone and borrowed records. In 1931 he founded radio station 2KO in Newcastle, the second commercial broadcasting station in that city.

From 1942 until the end of the Second World War he was the supervising engineer of the Radio and Signals Section of the Ministry of Munitions, a role he played in a voluntary capacity. Sir Allen also served as an alderman of the City of Newcastle from 1941 to 1944. He entered parliament in 1949 as the member for Paterson and was re-elected on seven occasions, holding the seat for 20 years until his retirement from parliament. For a conservative member to have such a long run from what is pretty good Labor heartland means he was obviously a very able politician.

In 1954 Sir Allen was a member of the Australian delegation to the General Assembly of the United Nations. His ministerial career began in 1956 with his appointment as Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works. He served as Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works from 1959 until 1961. He was then appointed the Minister for Supply and held that post for a little over four years. In January 1966 he was appointed to the senior role of Minister for Defence in the Holt government and remained in that position until his retirement some 3½ years later. An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald described him as:

... a hard liner, a firm anti-communist, an advocate of forward defence and rearmament.

As Minister for Defence, Sir Allen spent considerable time and energy responding to controversy over cost overruns, testing and delivery time frames of the F111 aircraft, ordered by the Menzies government in 1963. He would no doubt have enjoyed the current debate on the Joint Strike Fighter—the more things change, the more they stay the same. In 1968, along with Paul Hasluck, he successfully fomented backbench revolt against Prime Minister Gorton’s 1968 ‘Strategic basis of Australian defence policy’. During his parliamentary career he was also spoken of as a potential future Liberal leader. However, he retired from politics in 1969, saying that he found it:

... increasingly difficult to take the long hours and constant travelling inseparable from parliamentary office.

In the valedictory debate in September 1969, deputy opposition leader and shadow minister for defence, Lance Barnard, with whom he had done battle over the F111 contract, said that he had made:

... a tremendous contribution as a member and as a responsible Minister in this Parliament.

Sir Allen was also the author of a book, Towards a New Society, published in 1997, when I think he must have been about 88. In that work he argued for the abolition of the current taxation regime and for its replacement with a uniform tax on the unimproved capital value of land. The preface of the book said:

... society has struggled, with little success, to deal with the miseries which have overwhelmed untold millions of people throughout the world—miseries directly attributable to the private monopoly of land.

I am not sure that that is in total accord with current Liberal Party policy. Clearly Sir Allen was a man of independent thought and he retained a keen interest in important issues in our society well into his retirement. He was also the writer of Newcastle: Symphony of a City, published in 2001. Sir Allen was a person who made a significant contribution to public life and to government in Australia. Once again, on behalf of the opposition, I pass on our sincere condolences to his family and friends at this time.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.