Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 February 2008


Hon. Kim Edward Beazley, AC

5:30 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 12 October 2007, of the Honourable Kim Edward Beazley, AC, former federal minister and member for Fremantle, and places on record its appreciation of his long meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family.

Unlike the people referred to on some occasions in condolence motions, I actually knew Kim Beazley Sr. He was a learned and courteous man who continued to contribute to public life right up until his passing. He, of course, was a great Labor hero. In my youth he was one of the men who I looked up to. He was an inspiration to many young Labor people as they became interested in politics. I had the honour of attending his funeral, representing the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd—as senators would understand, it was in the period leading up to the federal election. There was a very good attendance of current and former members of parliament from both sides of politics. We certainly appreciated that. Of course, former Prime Ministers Keating, Hawke and Whitlam all attended and the former Governor-General, Bill Hayden, was also there. I think that is a sign of the respect with which Kim Beazley Sr was held.

At the age of 28, he entered the House of Representatives as its youngest member, representing the Western Australian electorate of Fremantle. During his 32 years in parliament, Kim earned the respect of both sides of politics and was widely recognised as one of the best parliamentary debaters and orators of his time. Kim was a great Labor figure, often said to be the ‘conscience of the Labor Party’. His career was deeply influenced by his Christian faith and his passion for education and Indigenous issues. I think he would appreciate what the parliament intends to do tomorrow very much. He made a significant and lasting contribution in government and in opposition and has had a defining influence on policy both nationally and within the Labor Party. In 1979 he was awarded the Order of Australia. Kim Beazley Sr died in Perth on 12 October 2007 at the age of 90, leaving a country so much the richer for his many years on earth.

In his early life, Kim had a sort of classic working-class upbringing and often went barefooted to school. In fact, when the Duke and Duchess of York visited his primary school in Fremantle in 1927 he was assigned to flag waving at the back because he had no shoes. Despite not being able to afford school shoes, his mother knew the value of something much more important—education. Kim would later say:

... we might have been bare-footed, but we could recite Wordsworth.

Kim topped the state in English and history and gained a scholarship to Perth Modern School, the alumni of a number of great Australians, including Sir Paul Hasluck, Dr ‘Nugget’ Coombs, Bob Hawke, John Stone and my partner, Miriam. He subsequently studied at Claremont Teachers’ College and then the University of Western Australia.

In 1937 he commenced work with the education department and taught successively at Richmond, a school in East Fremantle, Arthur River, Midland Junction and Claremont. At the time of his nomination for the Fremantle seat in 1945 he was living in Claremont and tutoring at Claremont Teachers’ Training College. He had also tutored at the University of Western Australia and became vice-president of the state school teachers’ union and a member of the Australian Teachers’ Federation.

Kim Beazley Sr first joined the ALP through the Labor Club of the University of WA and became a delegate to the metropolitan council and member of the state executive. He became the ALP senior vice-president and was a member of the federal executive of the ALP. In 1945, on the sudden death of the Prime Minister, John Curtin, he was endorsed for and won the seat of Fremantle. In a field of six candidates, he won the seat with an absolute majority of nearly 9,000 votes, and, at 28, became the youngest member of the House of Representatives. A year later he defeated his Liberal opponent in the 1946 general election by almost 20,000 votes. His majority went up and down over the years, but he continued to hold the seat strongly for Labor.

His youthful looks and intellect earned him the nickname of ‘the student prince’, but he was also known by some of his colleagues, not entirely charitably, as ‘the young Lochinvar’. Not surprisingly, when Kim Beazley Sr first entered parliament, he was immediately touted as having ministerial potential. When Labor won government under Gough Whitlam in 1972, Kim held the education portfolio throughout the government’s three-year span. Mungo MacCallum described Kim Beazley Sr as a ‘towering and intimidating figure with something of the style of an Old Testament prophet’. He was renowned for his deep Christian faith and strong moral stances on issues that led to some testing relationships with members of his own party.

Kim’s commitment to the Christian faith never wavered, even if politically it may not have been the most pragmatic thing for him to do. In 1953, Kim Beazley Sr became involved in the Moral Rearmament Movement and made a commitment to ‘concern myself daily with the challenge of how to live out God’s will and to turn the searchlight of absolute honesty onto my motives.’ He committed himself very much to the work of the Moral Rearmament Movement. Many within the Labor Party felt uneasy at Kim’s commitment to honesty and the Christian faith. Alan Reid, an influential correspondent of the time, wrote that Beazley was facing political destruction taking such a highly principled approach to politics. Reid wrote:

Powerful office-hungry individuals fear that his idealism and his current determination to pursue truth, whatever the price, could cost the Labor Party the next election. The story they are assiduously and effectively peddling is, ‘Beazley has lost his balance.’

However, it was far from destroying Kim; he went on to become one of Australia’s most successful education ministers and played an influential role within the ALP. The election of the Whitlam government gave Kim Beazley Sr the opportunity, after 27 years in parliament, to a make a real difference as education minister. Driven by his sense of fairness and equality, Kim Beazley Sr was responsible for some of the most influential education reforms in Australia’s history. Perhaps his crowning achievement in education was the abolition of university fees, to provide free education for a generation of tertiary students, of which I am one. Also, under his watch as education minister, enrolments in technical education leaped from 400,000 to 705,000.

Kim was also responsible for introducing government funding for both private and public schools. He said at the time, ‘The Constitution doesn’t say that the Commonwealth may give benefits to the states, but nothing to Catholics. What we must do is look at all Australian children as Commonwealth citizens, and meet their needs.’ Kim cared deeply for those most in need—in particular underprivileged children. He once said: ‘We love the brilliant child and the scholar, but what about the others—children who are physically, socially, or geographically handicapped, children who go to school without the precognitive use of speech because they were without books or intelligent conversation? These are my first priorities.’ As education minister, Kim implemented a range of Commonwealth programs to help Indigenous children, migrant children and children with special needs, as well as providing assistance for people to embark on technical and adult education. Kim’s work ethic and desire to make Australia’s education system more equitable were second to none. His work ethic once led to his collapsing of exhaustion after embarking on a barnstorming campaign which saw him speaking every night, jumping from state to state, to explain the Karmel committee recommendations to provide funding to government and non-government schools through a grants program.

As this parliament prepares to say sorry to a generation of people who were removed from their families as children, it is pertinent that Kim’s passion for the rights of Aboriginal people is acknowledged. Kim’s commitment to this issue was an enduring feature of his life, both in and out of parliament. In 1952, he was the first member of federal parliament to raise the issue of Aboriginal land rights but, as we know, it took years before anything was implemented. His passionate advocacy for Aboriginal rights inspired many. Former Western Australian Premier Geoff Gallop has said that he would never forget, as a student, listening to Mr Beazley Sr speak about Indigenous rights. Kim pushed for and was successful in having Aboriginal land rights installed into the Labor Party platform and was the parliamentary representative on the council of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies from 1964 to 1972. One of the first things he initiated as Minister for Education was to enable Aboriginal children to be taught in their own languages—with English as a second language—and within three years Aboriginal children around Australia were being taught in 22 of their own languages. Kim also introduced scholarships for Indigenous children to encourage and assist them to gain an education.

After his parliamentary career, Kim Beazley Sr did not stand down from public life. He headed a major ground-breaking inquiry into Western Australia’s education system, the results of which form the foundations of the current Western Australian education system. Kim chaired a joint parliamentary lay committee which investigated aspects of parliamentary privilege during the term of the Dowding WA state Labor government. He continued his passionate interest in Aboriginal rights and remained a very strong public advocate. He also kept a grassroots connection with the Labor Party: up to the age of 80, he and his partner, Betty, held branch meetings in his house in Cottesloe. Betty has remained active at the branch level to this day.

There is no doubt that Kim Edward Beazley was one of Australia’s most respected political postwar figures, not so much for the relatively brief yet remarkable achievements of his time as federal Minister for Education, but for his consistently righteous stand on issues affecting public life. On behalf of the government, I wish to offer our sincere thanks to a man who made such an enormous contribution to the parliament and to public life. Last year was a very difficult year for the Beazley family. Sadly, Kim Beazley Senior’s younger son, David, died last year as well. We extend our condolences to his wife, Betty, and to his children, Kim Beazley Jr and Merrilyn Wasson, and their respective families. They have much to be proud of on the passing of a very great Australian.

5:42 pm

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I have pleasure in rising on behalf of the coalition to support the motion by Senator Evans and extend our sympathies to the family of Kim Beazley Sr upon his very sad passing on 12 October 2007. There is no doubt that Kim Beazley was a true stalwart of the Labor Party. He had a tremendous political career. He was very well respected on all sides of politics, both during his long service as a member of the House of Representatives and in his retirement. It is certainly true that the Labor Party has lost one of its real gentlemen, and the Australian people have lost a very loyal former representative.

Senator Evans has detailed Mr Beazley’s long and distinguished political career, which I will not repeat. I note that he had probably one of the longest parliamentary careers in our history, and spent over one-third of his life in this place. Regrettably for him, he spent some 25 of his 32 years in opposition. He had the great misfortune that his career coincided with the long reign of the coalition under Sir Robert Menzies. How on earth anyone could put up with 25 years of opposition is certainly beyond me, so I applaud Mr Beazley’s clear resolve, tenacity and commitment to his cause. I think he was acknowledged by all sides of politics as a man of great principle, and he endeavoured to ensure that those principles guided his decision making. Indeed, many on our side of politics had great respect for his deep commitment to his Christian faith. That led to many coalition members of parliament having much in common with Kim Beazley on the great moral issues of our time. I should note that he also had, as a parent, the great good fortune to see his son Kim enter politics and have a very distinguished career as a senior figure in the Australian Labor Party. I think that Kim Beazley Jr shares many of his father’s great qualities and he is unlucky not to have had the opportunity to become Australia’s prime minister. Perhaps he will have an opportunity to serve Australia in some other capacity in the future.

At the time of Kim Beazley Senior’s death in October, former Prime Minister John Howard, who knew Kim Beazley well, highlighted his enormous respect for Kim’s great debating skills and his innate courtesy to the Australian people. John Howard, of course, overlapped with Kim Beazley—I think John’s first three years were Kim’s last three years—and he noted what many understood then and understand now, that he was one of our great parliamentarians. He was also a great Australian, and, in my view, in honour of him we should all endeavour to conduct ourselves in our public lives in such a fashion as to ensure that the Commonwealth parliament continues to attract men and women of his great character.

To his wife, Betty, and to Kim, Merrilyn and their families the opposition places on record its appreciation of Kim’s long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to them in their bereavement. We join with Senator Evans in also offering our condolences for the sad loss of David Beazley last year.

5:46 pm

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

When Kim Edward Beazley was elected to represent the Labor Party for the seat of Fremantle in 1945, succeeding John Curtin, he was 27 years old and the youngest member of the House of Representatives. When he retired in 1977, he was the longest serving member—from ‘student prince’, as he was once nicknamed, to the ‘father of the House’. But not all the parliamentary records Kim Beazley could claim were so enviable. As the Leader of the Opposition has said, of the 32 years Kim Beazley Sr spent in the parliament, 25 of them were in opposition. And they were all as a member for a Western Australian electorate. Every parliamentarian understands the pressure that distance and travel place on family life. For our colleagues from Western Australia those difficulties are proportionally greater.

Beazley wrote in his memoir that neither he nor his wife, Betty, had any idea at the beginning of his career how difficult it would be to combine family life with the demands of a political career. It was especially difficult in Beazley’s early years in parliament when the frugal Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley restricted parliamentarians’ travel. Ironically, it was not until Labor lost government that Kim Beazley had access to improved parliamentary perks, as the newly elected Liberal government expected parliamentarians to have allowances and travel more in line with businessmen’s expense accounts than Chif’s more parsimonious standards. I am sure that Kim Beazley would have traded those perks any day for a return to office. But it would be 23 years before he would have the chance.

Nearly three decades in opposition indicates a certain undeniable endurance. It is a measure of not only Kim Edward Beazley’s endurance, but also his consistency that when he finally took his place on the government benches it was to introduce reforms addressing the issue that had first prompted his political involvement.

Like many Labor figures—like me, for example—Beazley’s path through tertiary education was made possible by his employment as a teacher. Even without the burden of fees at the University of Western Australia, the cost of books and other expenses were beyond the means of a young man from a battling family during the Depression. Beazley took a monitorship at a state school and then a course at teachers training school; he was paid £60 in return for a commitment to teach for five years. He discovered that he loved teaching.

There are those in political life who have always aimed to become reformers, whose ambition for social change has guided all their choices. And there are those whose political career emerges, almost taking them unaware, from a deep and genuine commitment to an issue dear to them. Kim Beazley Sr was one of the latter.

His own experience, from a boy standing in the back row, as the Leader of the Government has said, for the royal visit with the other children whose parents could not afford shoes, to the future unlocked for him at Perth Modern School, to teaching in the state school system, left Beazley with a powerful understanding of the role education played in transforming lives, and an abiding conviction of the responsibility government bore in making that transforming opportunity available to all Australians.

Struck by the vast difference between education opportunities available in the state’s public schools and private schools, Kim Beazley joined the Australian Labor Party with the aim, he later wrote, of bringing to Australia high-quality universal education. His education in politics followed.

Western Australia was not immune to the thorny issue of state aid. Beazley found there was no great political will in the Western Australian Labor Party at that time to wade into the debate of funding, or lack thereof, for the Catholic school system. He came to believe that the antipathy between the government and non-government systems was the root cause of successive governments’ inability to provide high-quality universal education. It took nearly 30 years but before the end of his parliamentary career Beazley was able to say that he had overcome that obstacle and achieved the aims that first took him into politics.

He was a minister for only three years but in those three years he had responsibility for what became some of the Whitlam government’s most enduring and iconic reforms. As Minister for Education, Kim Beazley oversaw the ending of the funding divide that separated private and public schools and the introduction of free tertiary education. Those policy reforms changed the landscape of Australian education. Two ideas were firmly enshrined in Australia’s education policy: the principle that university access ought to depend on merit, not wealth; and the idea that the government is responsible for ensuring the quality of education for all Australian students.

There are a great many Australians today who have had an opportunity to make far more of their lives than they otherwise could have because of their access to education—access that they owe to the reforms introduced by education minister Kim Beazley in the Whitlam government. Beazley was so dedicated to the reforms that he worked night and day, criss-crossing the country until he collapsed from exhaustion. The legislation was introduced while he was in hospital.

The expansion of access to high-quality education may be the greatest of Kim Beazley’s legacies but it was neither the only cause he championed nor the only success he had. He held strong opinions about the direction of the Labor Party, opinions that placed him at odds with his own party branch in Western Australia. Although not a Catholic and never a Grouper he had a deep antipathy to the atheist convictions of the Communist Party and a belief that the tragedies of the world were due to mankind ignoring the tenets of religion.

He did not leave the Labor Party during the split but, as for so many members of the Labor Party in that era, the split had a long-lasting effect on Kim Beazley’s career, as it did on the fortunes of the Labor Party. Beazley lost his membership of the federal executive for defying the left-wing state secretary, Joe Chamberlain, by voting to support Gough Whitlam’s intervention into the unelectable Victorian branch and voting against intervention into the right-dominated New South Wales branch. He paid and was willing to pay a personal price to support Whitlam’s leadership and his very necessary party reforms, without which there would not have been a Whitlam government.

In other ways I think his views could be described as to the left of the party. His experience in 1961 as a member of the Select Committee on the Voting Rights for Aborigines, which travelled 21,000 miles to hold hearings all around the country, had a profound impact on Beazley’s views. He became a long-time supporter of the rights of Australia’s first inhabitants, championing the principle of what was then termed ‘tribal title’ but what we now know as land rights. He argued for government recognition that Indigenous people had a relationship to the land that was different to but not lesser than the European model. He also understood that economic security was a fundamental right for all Australians, and that for Indigenous Australians economic security had to start with title to their land.

He believed in listening to Indigenous communities, not to officials and welfare officers, and it was from listening to and talking with Indigenous Australians that he developed his views. He was resistant both to assimilationist insistence that Indigenous Australians completely surrender their heritage and to the brand of noble-savage racism that sought to impose unwanted paralysis and stagnation.

The ability to meet his fellow men as equals regardless of race or nation influenced his views on foreign policy. Beazley was able to see Australia in the context of our region without the fear of Asia that poisoned so many of his contemporaries. When it came to national security, international relations and the rights of the original inhabitants of Australia, his views would not be shared by the majority until long after his retirement from parliament. In these respects he was ahead of his time. There is a certain irony that the internationalism and antiracism that informed these views grew from the deep and abiding religious convictions and advocacy of moral rearmament that led many to characterise him as behind the times.

It is often said of Kim Edward Beazley that he might well have led Labor were it not for the enemies he made through his devout faith and moral rearmament convictions. I think this is perhaps a little simplistic. His views were strongly and sincerely held, were always rooted in conviction, and were without desire for personal or political gain. However, they were, in many cases, not the views of the Australian Labor Party or the Australian people.

On matters that are traditionally regarded as questions of conscience—such as the availability of divorce—Kim Beazley was, even in the days of the Whitlam government, part of a minority fighting to hold back a tide of change. His declaration that he had made a decision to ‘concern myself daily with the challenge of how to live out God’s will and to turn the searchlight of absolute honesty on my motives’ was viewed with consternation by some political colleagues. Nor was his enthusiastic evangelising on questions of personal morality welcome in all quarters. Although some of his views may seem alienating to us, the sincere impulses from which they sprang, I think, can only be viewed as admirable.

Kim Beazley Senior’s childhood was marred by the poverty and fear that followed his father’s struggles with alcohol. In his unpublished memoir he recounts going around the house hiding all the razors, believing his father might even use them on his family. At the same time his mother, a bastion of love and security for Kim and his six older siblings, emphasised the importance of education and of religion—education as the escape from poverty and insecurity, and religion as the guide to a decent and moral life. Throughout his life, Kim Edward Beazley would continue to be guided by these values.

His lifelong determination, expressed in political activism and religious faith, was to be a good husband, a good father and a good man. At his funeral, his family testified movingly how well he lived up to the first two of those ambitions. Speaking as a member of the Australian Labor Party, to which Kim Edward Beazley gave so many decades of service and in whose name he achieved so much on behalf of the disadvantaged, the marginalised and the embattled in our community, I believe it is undeniable that he achieved the third as well. Knowing Kim Edward Beazley’s son Kim Christian Beazley so well, we of course feel this loss very keenly. Our sympathies are with Betty Beazley and all the Beazley family. We have lost a colleague. They have lost a dearly beloved husband, father and friend.

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.

6:09 pm

Photo of Lyn AllisonLyn Allison (Victoria, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

I join in the condolence motion on behalf of the Australian Democrats and offer my condolences on the sad passing of Kim Edward Beazley on 12 October 2007. We were represented at his funeral by my colleague Senator Andrew Murray. I also want to express my most sincere sympathy to his family—to his wife, Betty, and to his children, including Kim Beazley Jr.

Kim Beazley Sr had a long and distinguished record within the parliament. He was described as a political giant, as a student prince, even, in some of the clippings I have seen. He was intelligent and passionate, but he was also a moderate and a reasonable man and a great orator. At 27 he was the youngest person to enter the House of Representatives and he went on to become one of parliament’s longest serving members, lasting 32 years. In that time he made an enormous contribution, one which he continued after leaving politics.

Kim Beazley Sr was education minister in the Whitlam government from 1972 to 1975. I must say that I owe him a debt of gratitude because, when he was education minister, the government abolished university fees due to his initiative, as I understand it, and I was the beneficiary of that—as, I suspect, were many now in this place. On taking office, one of his first initiatives was to arrange for Aboriginal children to be taught in their own language, with English as a second language. This was a very farsighted initiative on his part. By the time Kim Beazley left the ministry, Aboriginal children were being taught in 22 of their own languages. I think it is a great pity that we do not now see very many schools offering Indigenous languages. Educationists know that it is preferable for children who come to school without English to be able to start in their own language. I think it is also a great pity that so many Indigenous languages around the country have been lost. Very few have in fact been recorded and are used, except perhaps in the Northern Territory.

He also introduced needs based funding for all schools through his Schools Commission, and that started funding for non-government schools in the interests of greater equality. He had a great affinity for Indigenous Australians and in 1952 he made the first speech on Aboriginal reconciliation. He would no doubt have been very proud of the welcome to country ceremony which took place this morning before the opening of parliament.

He was awarded an AO in 1979 and I think that he will be remembered very well in this parliament and at large for his many contributions to this country. I want to finish with one quote from him: ‘If you can read and write, your future is in your own hands.’ I think that is very good advice indeed. We should be very grateful to the Hon. Kim Edward Beazley for his contribution to education in this country.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.