Monday, 16 June 2008
Mr Milivoj Emil (Misha) Lajovic
by leave—I move:
That the Senate records its deep regret at the death on 5 June 2008 of Milivoj Emil ‘Misha’ Lajovic, former Senator for New South Wales, and places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.
Milo Lajovic was not someone I knew personally, but he was known to his friends as Misha and was born on 23 July 1921 in Slovenia, which was then Yugoslavia. At the age of 30 he left his homeland to come out to Australia and in fact his first job, as I understand it, was as an interpreter. He is another fine example of a migrant to this country making good. I am informed he was a strident anticommunist and was perhaps driven by his own history in Europe at the time. Before he entered parliament he was an accountant and marketing manager. He was also very active in the Good Neighbour Council of New South Wales from 1954. He was on their executive from 1969 to 1972 and he was also their vice-president from 1971. So he was very committed to the activities of the Good Neighbour Council.
Misha was elected to federal parliament in 1975 representing the Liberal Party. During his time as a senator he was a member of numerous parliamentary committees. These included the Senate Standing Committee on Publications from 1980 to 1983, the Senate Legislative and General Purpose Committee, the trade and commerce committee from 1976, the education and arts committee from 1981 to 1983 and the senate estimates committee from 1981 to 1983. He also served on the joint committee on public accounts and the joint Australian Capital Territory committee from 1983. He also participated in a number of parliamentary delegations, including the CPA annual group discussion in London, Edinburgh and the Isle of Man in 1979, and a parliamentary delegation to Japan in 1982. The senator also held various party positions inside the Liberal Party. He was a delegate to the New South Wales state council of the party, a member of their executive and president of the Liberal Party western metropolitan region in 1971. So he had a very active engagement in the Liberal Party and was very active in his work in the Senate.
I also understand that he was very well liked, was a popular senator and was known for being generous and good company. I think Senator Watson is probably the only senator who served with him, so he will be able to give a far better insight than I can into his contribution. Misha retired from the Senate in June 1985. Unfortunately he passed away on 5 June 2008, and his funeral was in Sydney on 11 June. On behalf of the government and all Labor senators, I offer condolences to his son and all of his close relatives. We note his very meritorious career and contribution to public life.
On behalf of the coalition I am pleased to support the motion moved by Senator Evans and offer our own sincere condolences on the passing of former Senator Misha Lajovic. Misha, which was his accepted nickname, was first elected here as a senator for New South Wales in 1975, as Senator Evans noted, and served here for 10 years. Indeed, it was my pleasure to have met Misha on several occasions, and a wonderful and engaging human being he was. As Senator Evans noted, he was born in Slovenia, which was then Yugoslavia, in 1921 and came here at the relatively old age for a migrant of 30, in that post-war migrant boom that Australia experienced. No doubt having lived in Europe from 1921 to 1951 had an enormous impact on him and shaped his personal views and ultimately his great contribution to this chamber. I think none of us should underestimate the challenges that someone in Misha’s position would have faced not only in that dreadful wartime period in Europe but also in coming here as a new migrant in the early fifties at the age of 30.
He was, I think, one of the singular postwar migrant success stories. He joined the Liberal Party in 1958, some seven years after migrating here. And, of course, given his background in war-torn Europe and his strong opposition to authoritarianism and totalitarianism, it was natural that he gravitated to the party that I and my colleagues are proud to represent.
He was a first in this place. He commented in his valedictory speech on his uniqueness at the time, in being a migrant who had arrived at an adult age and then being elected as a parliamentarian in a country like Australia—an extraordinary achievement. He was, indeed, the first migrant of a non-English-speaking background to be elected to this Senate and, certainly, we on this side are very proud that he was elected as a Liberal. He noted in his valedictory that his election was a credit to the Australian people and proof that this is a country of a fair go for all. He of course did not say in his final speech that he got there on merit and it was he who won his election as a senator, and he worked extremely hard as a senator in this place. I think his background, his experiences, his commitment to the party, his commitment to the parliament and his innate integrity were the reasons why he was a great success as a Liberal senator for his 10 years here. He described his swearing-in as a senator as the proudest day of his life and the 10 years that he spent in this chamber as the most exciting years of his life. He was exceptionally proud of the role he was able to play in this great Australian democracy.
As Senator Evans noted, he was a great supporter of the Senate committee system. He highlighted that this is one of the advantages that we have over the House of Representatives, with our committee system allowing people from all backgrounds and all walks of life and those on the back bench to make a very direct and significant contribution to improving the legislation that we pass through this place. He played an active role throughout his time as a senator in the Senate Standing Committee on Industry and Trade and the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit. He was, unsurprisingly, a very strong supporter of the Fraser coalition government’s establishment of the Special Broadcasting Service and, while he was here, participated in a Senate review of the SBS. He was, of course, during his tenure in the Senate, a very strong voice on the issue of migration, an articulate advocate of its benefits to the country and of how new migrants could best be assisted.
After his retirement, he was a frequent visitor to the gallery. Our records show he was acknowledged some eight times after his retirement, most recently in June of last year. Obviously, he was extremely proud to have served his nation as a senator. So, to Misha’s son Tom and his family and friends, the coalition places on record its appreciation of Misha’s diligent public service and his loyalty to the party that he represented here, and it tenders its profound sympathy to them in their bereavement.
As a close colleague of the former New South Wales Liberal Senator Misha Lajovic, I wish to be associated with this afternoon’s condolence motion. His passing marks the end of an era. The Senate does not have many accountants; Misha was one of them. Therefore, as accountants, we had a professional link. We also shared common membership of the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit. But our friendship went far deeper than accounting or the JCPAA. He was the first non-Anglo-Saxon migrant in the Senate, where he served with great distinction for 10 years—from the 1975 double-dissolution election until 30 June 1985. A more loyal senator you could not find.
The senator was proud of the opportunities given to him in Australia, but he never forgot Slovenia, the land of his birth, or the troubles of the former Yugoslavia. He spoke often and passionately about the evils of totalitarianism. He urged our party to embrace migrants politically and he warned, even in those days, that failure to do so would make the party irrelevant.
Misha was a modest and a humble man. His first two years were as a labourer in Australia. In his maiden speech, he described his electoral success as one of the proudest moments of his life. And he described Australia as a country of a fair go, a fair go for anyone regardless of origin—a country which millions of migrants like himself had adopted as their home and the home of their children and their children’s children. He suffered under communism and, not surprisingly, when an opportunity offered itself, he sought refuge in Australia.
He had a delightful European sense of humour which, in the words of the late Don Chipp, enchanted us all. Former Senator Chaney, previously a leader of our party, spoke fondly of Senator Lajovic. In fact, Senator Chaney said that the remarkable thing was his survival powers, living in dangerous and difficult times and having been engaged at a top level in some bitter intellectual and military battles. Senator Chaney was indeed impressed with Senator Lajovic’s contribution to migration debates.
Former Senator Lajovic was indeed a great spokesman for the Liberal Party philosophy, where people’s individuality is protected and promoted and where the wishes of the majority are expressed by the government, which thus serves the people. Individuals are free to choose, free to learn and free to succeed. He learnt that, in contrast to his previous bitter experience. He described our committees in the Senate here, which he admired, as microparliaments.
The late former Senator Lajovic served his party, the Liberal Party of New South Wales, well. He joined it in 1958, was a delegate to the New South Wales Liberal Party council from 1968 and was on that state executive from 1971. He lived 86 productive years. He leaves behind a grateful son, Thomas. To the whole family, I express my heartfelt sympathy. Not surprisingly, his final request was that, in lieu of flowers, a donation be made to the Salvation Army. He has indeed enriched the lives of all who knew him. Vale, former Senator Lajovic.
Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.