Senate debates

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


Mr George Conrad Hannan

3:32 pm

Photo of John HoggJohn Hogg (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death on 1 May 2009 of George Conrad Hannan, a senator for the state of Victoria from 1956 to 1965 and 1970 to 1974. I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

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

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death on 1 May 2009 of George Conrad Hannan, former senator for Victoria, and places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

George was born in Wagga Wagga in 1910. I always think of Senator Kemp when I come across the name ‘Wagga Wagga’. He famously mispronounced it and I cannot look at it now without being reminded. I am sorry about that. After graduating from the University of Melbourne, George practised as a barrister and solicitor. During the Second World War he served as a radar officer with the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve.

George joined the Liberal Party shortly after its formation in 1944. He first entered parliament as a Liberal senator for Victoria in 1956 when he was chosen by the Victorian parliament to fill a casual vacancy. He successfully retained his seat at the 1958 election and served a full term before he was defeated in 1964. George was subsequently re-elected in 1970.

During his time as a senator, Senator Hannan served on a number of parliamentary committees, including: the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Production for Television; the Senate Standing Committee on Education, Science and the Arts; the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs; and the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs. He was also a member of the Australian delegation to the 53rd Annual Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Copenhagen in 1964, and was the parliamentary adviser to the Australian mission to the United Nations in 1971.

I did not have the pleasure of knowing Senator Hannan but I understand he was particularly passionate about Australian television and radio and was a member of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board from 1968 to 1969. I understand that he regarded one of his main achievements as senator to be his role in getting the federal parliament to place frequency modulation broadcasting on the VHF band. George also wrote the section of the 1963 Vincent report that recommended the establishment of the Australian Film Development Corporation, which is now the Australian Film and Television School—Australia’s premier film school. This report was produced by the Senate Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Productions for Television and played an important role in gathering support for a revival of the Australian television industry.

Senator Hannan remained a Liberal senator until his resignation in 1974. He then formed a breakaway group, the National Liberal Party, which was launched at the Melbourne Town Hall in March 1974. George was staunchly conservative in his political views and he often spoke of how his formation of the new party was a reaction to what he termed the ‘trendies’ in the Victorian Liberal Party. I am sure Senator Minchin will share his views in his contribution to this motion. He is clearly of the same mould. After Senator Hannan unsuccessfully contested the 1974 Senate election as a National Liberal Party candidate, he resumed his legal practice. As I said, he passed away on 1 May this year at age 98.

Senator Hannan was a respected member of the Senate. He was regarded as one of the Liberal Party’s best speakers during his time here. He made a valuable and colourful contribution to national political life. On behalf of the government, I offer our condolences to his wife, Eileen, his children, Judith, Peter, Michael and Eilene, and his family and friends.

3:37 pm

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

I am pleased to support the motion moved by Senator Evans and offer on behalf of coalition senators sincere condolences upon the death of former Liberal senator from Victoria, George Conrad Hannan. George Hannan died on 1 May at the age of 98—a grand age indeed. His grandson observed the irony of such a strong conservative passing away on May Day.

George filled no fewer than two casual vacancies in the Senate, the first in 1956 and the second in 1970. That must be unique. He served for a total of 13 years in this place—a full six-year term from 1959 to 1965 and then a term shortened by the 1974 double dissolution, from 1970 to 1974. I note that whenever he was up for election, he was always in the precarious third spot on the Liberal Party’s Senate ticket in Victoria; that was in the days when we only had 10 senators from each state. He was born in Wagga but grew up in Albury and went to boarding school in Goulburn then studied law in Melbourne. He spent his non-political life working in his own legal practice in Melbourne.

As Senator Evans noted, George served with the Royal Australian Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II, becoming a lieutenant in 1942. He worked in the radar division, which suited his electronic knowledge and experience with amateur radio, hence his long interest in communications. As shadow communications spokesman, it would be remiss of me not to mention that from a young age George had an interest in areas of communication, broadcasting and technology, as shown through his interest in amateur radio, subsequent work with the Navy and his interests and committee involvement during his time in parliament.

George participated in the Parliamentary Library’s oral history project and gave a detailed account of his life and of his time in the federal parliament, which does make interesting reading. He did that in November 1984 just before the 1984 federal election. In that oral history he describes his mother as having very conservative views on political matters, while his father was more affiliated with the Labor tradition. So, as Senator Evans noted, we see who won out! In that Parliamentary Library interview George described the development of what were his apparently very conservative views. He stated that it was after World War II that he discovered a strong conservative feeling and that ‘things for which the Labor Party stood after the war were nothing like the ideals that had actuated my father’.

George joined the Liberal Party in 1946, drawn to our party because he was ‘impressed by the aims and objects set out by Mr Menzies’, for whom he had a lifetime of admiration. Prior to the war he supported Menzies and after the war he thought the Liberal view was better for Australia. He was a strong supporter of the Liberal Party structure upon its formation, stating that ‘a man from down at branch level could beat the Prime Minister for endorsement if he was good enough’. That does not happen very often, however! He was a proud conservative during his time in parliament, interested in foreign affairs and broadcasting and very well known for his anticommunism, which was a hot button issue in the fifties.

George was an active member of a number of select committees during his time in the Senate, including the Select Committee on the Encouragement of Australian Production for Television in 1962 and 1963, and was a strong champion of Australian broadcasting content. As Senator Evans noted, he was not endorsed by the executive of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party in 1974. Having sought and failed in preselection due to what Senator Evans noted was his view that the then administration was controlled by ‘trendies’, he was concerned that the party was drifting away from the Menzies principles, so he established the National Liberal Party to contest the election in 1974. He stated in the Parliamentary Library interview that ‘the trouble is, too much of what is called small ‘L’ liberalism doesn’t mean conservative at all, it means jumping on any bandwagon that is going by’. I guess that sums up former Senator Hannan’s view of the world.

In 1974, the Age, in discussing his new party, described him as one of the best ‘boots and all’ orators on the Liberal benches. He was certainly passionate about his conservative views. Having stood for his National Liberal Party, he had a temporary absence from our party but later rejoined and remained active. He has received a lifetime service award through the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, and it is good to see that degree of forgiveness by the Victorian division. I understand he was a frequent caller on many Victorian Liberal politicians to provide his views. I must say I regret never having met George Hannan. From what I have read of him and from what I know, I am sure I would have liked him very much indeed.

To his wife of 71 years, Eileen, and their children and grandchildren, on behalf of the Liberal and National parties I place on record our sincere appreciation of George’s long and meritorious public service and tender our profound sympathy at this time.

3:42 pm

Photo of Barnaby JoyceBarnaby Joyce (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Very briefly, I add my concurrence with the remarks of Senator Evans and Senator Minchin on reading of the life of George Conrad Hannan. I had to be impressed, especially as he tried to form the National Liberal Party, me being in the Liberal-National Party, I hope we come to a better outcome. I also very much admire the fact that George was a person of conviction, so much so that he was willing to put his own political life on the line and to pursue his cause through the creation of a party. Unfortunately that party only received 1.2 per cent of the vote at the election.

To his children, Judith, Peter and Michael, and his wife of 71 years, Eileen, for all the work that he did for our nation, I would like to offer my sincere condolences. May he rest in peace.

3:43 pm

Photo of Helen KrogerHelen Kroger (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with real pleasure that I rise in this chamber to speak of the late former Senator George Hannan, an old friend. I have to say that in the context of 98 years, the 30 years that I have had the pleasure of knowing him pales into insignificance compared to the number of years that so many others have. George was one of the first people I knew and met when I joined the Liberal Party. He was a member of the East Malvern branch when he rejoined the party and he was a great character, a seriously great character, one who did not take himself too seriously, although he took his passions and his causes very seriously.

One of my enduring memories of him is that we would rock up to yet another branch meeting and find he was always moving a motion on water infrastructure. He thought that we were not protecting the generations to come and wanted to protect them and ensure that we were providing sufficient investment in water infrastructure. At just about every meeting we rocked up to he would be moving a motion at that branch to see if he could fix that—which then went on to state council.

As Senator Minchin has already mentioned, he was recognised for his extensive contribution to the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party with a distinguished service award—something which many of us were very happy to support when that was put forward. He has also been a great friend and mentor, if I may say so, to many of us. In fact one of the first people I received correspondence from when I was successfully preselected for the Senate to represent the Liberal Party in Victoria was former Senator Hannan. Whilst he was in a nursing home, he took a very active interest, up until his final days, in the affairs of the nation and what was going on.

I attended his memorial service at the Order of the Carmelites in Kew last week at the beautiful chapel which they have only just allowed to be used for public services and funerals. It was a gorgeous service. It was a real celebration of the man and his many and varied interests. He had a passionate interest in politics obviously but he had an equally passionate interest in the arts, music, literature and sport. He had very diverse interests and in fact the only things he did not have an interest in were gardening, and that was actually pointed out at the time, and clothes. He was well known for his cardies, which he would actually wear into the Senate under his suit jackets because he loved his hand knitted cardigans.

May I also extend my best wishes to Eileen and the family. They are truly a great family. I would like to close with something that was repeated and relayed to us at the funeral which George said many a time—that is, he was born to marry his wife Eileen. He dedicated his life to her, and she will be missing him hugely after over 70 years of marriage.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.