Senate debates

Monday, 9 February 2015


Enderby, Hon. Keppel Earl, QC

3:36 pm

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death, on 7 January 2015, of the Hon. Keppel Earl Enderby QC, a former minister and member of the House of Representatives for the divisions of Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory from 1970 until 1975. I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Abetz.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Minister for Employment) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death on 7 January 2015 of the Honourable Keppel (Kep) Earl Enderby QC, former minister and member for the Australian Capital Territory and Canberra, places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

The Hon. Keppel Earl Enderby QC, or Kep Enderby, was a member of the House of Representatives from 1970 to 1975 and a minister of the Crown from 1972 to 1975. He lived a long and full life. Although his parliamentary service was brief, his public service was lengthy.

Mr Enderby was born on 25 June 1926 in Dubbo and was educated at Dubbo high school. Among other things he was an exceptionally gifted golfer from a young age; remarkably, he became captain of the Dubbo Golf Club aged only 14. He later went on to be the New South Wales men's amateur golf champion in 1946 and played in the British amateur and open championships in 1951 and 1952, ranking No. 17 in a very talented field. In 1944 Mr Enderby enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force as a trainee pilot, being discharged when peace came the following year. He continued a lifelong interest in aviation, including piloting helicopters into his 60s.

After the war, he studied law at the University of Sydney and was admitted to the New South Wales bar in 1950. He then moved to London to work as a barrister and undertook further study at the University of London, graduating in Master of Laws. In 1955 Mr Enderby returned to Australia, resuming the practice of law, and lectured first at Sydney Technical College and, from 1962, at the Australian National University. From 1966 he practised as a barrister in Canberra and was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1973. In 1970 he won the seat of the Australian Capital Territory at the by-election caused by the death of the then long-serving member, Mr Jim Fraser. He held the seat in 1972 and in 1974. He became the first member for Canberra when the ACT was divided into two seats. He lost his seat at the general election in December 1975.

With the election of the Whitlam government in December 1972, Kep Enderby was first appointed Minister for the Capital Territory and was the inaugural Minister for the Northern Territory. It was not easy for the local MP to also be the ACT minister and in 1973, in a reshuffle, he was appointed Minister for Secondary Industry and Minister for Supply. As an aside, I noted in one of the articles in the newspapers when he was minister: 'General Motors Holden will sack up to 5,000 workers next month.' It seems, no matter how far back we go, the same sort of vicious issues keep confronting this parliament.

In 1975, when Lionel Murphy was appointed to the High Court, Mr Enderby became Attorney General of the Commonwealth and Minister for Customs and Excise—later to be changed to Minister for Police and Customs, following the Whitlam government's announcement of a new Australia Police force. Following his defeat in the coalition landslide at the end of 1975, Kep Enderby moved to Sydney and returned to the bar. In 1982 he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, serving on the bench of that court for 10 years. In 1997 he was appointed head of the New South Wales Serious Offenders Review Council. He continued a wide involvement in community life, especially with the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties and as President of the Australian Esperanto Association and then president of the world body, the Universal Esperanto Association.

Kep Enderby had a good-natured and engaging personality and generally avoided the rancour of political debate, preferring the barrister's approach of reasoned argument. To his wife, Dot, and his two children—his son, Keir, and daughter, Jo—I offer deepest sympathies on behalf of the government, and I also extend those to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I express the deepest sympathy at the passing of Kip Enderby after a full and productive life in the service of Australia; I also thank the extended family for lending him to the nation throughout his distinguished career.

3:42 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to speak on this motion of condolence on the death of the Hon. Kep Enderby QC. Kep Enderby, as he was known, died on 7 January this year at the age of 88, the closing chapter in a life devoted to the service of his profession, his party, his community and his country. He was a man of principles and ideals—a social reformer committed to human rights, civil liberties and the protection of the weak. He rose to the office of Attorney-General and he held the position for just nine months—the turbulent period at the end of the Whitlam government's time in office. But in that time, Kep Enderby made sweeping social reforms which have stood the test of time. He modernised Australian family law with legislation which included no-fault divorce. He legislated to tackle racial discrimination, to decriminalise homosexuality and to remove the death penalty from the federal statute books.

Kep Enderby was born in 1926 in the town of Dubbo. His parents owned the local milk bar and he attended the local state primary and high schools. He joined the RAAF in 1944 and trained as a pilot during the Second World War. As Senator Abetz has said, he was a top amateur golfer after the war and for a while considered turning professional; but in the end he decided to pursue a career in the law and trained as a barrister in London and Sydney. In the early 1960s he moved to Canberra to take up a position as a law lecturer at the then newly established Australian National University. He said that in those days he was drunk on the words of Karl Marx and the Russian anarcho-communist Pyotr Kropotkin. Well, it was the 1960s, I suppose!

He joined the Australian Labor Party and by 1970 had won preselection for the electorate representing the ACT. In those days there was just one seat for the ACT in the House of Representatives—the seat which he won at a by-election in May 1970. This was an exciting time for Kep Enderby himself but also for the Labor Party. Gough Whitlam was capturing the public imagination and the mood for social and political change was growing. In 1972 Kep became part of the Whitlam government, the first federal Labor government in 23 years. He served as Minister for the Capital Territory, Minister for the Northern Territory, Minister for Supply, Minister for Manufacturing Industry and Minister for Customs and Excise. Then, in February 1975, he became the Attorney-General.

As I mentioned previously, in the nine months from February to November 1975 he secured parliamentary passage of some ground-breaking legal reforms. They included the Family Law Act and the Racial Discrimination Act. He drew on his own experiences as a lawyer to make out the case for no-fault divorce, a major social reform in Australia. As he told the House, all of us who have done this work in the courts know of cases where the inheritance of the children is dissipated because the parties have been encouraged to hate each other to such an extent that they fight on.

In his second reading speech on the Racial Discrimination Act, he cited the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and its assertion that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. He argued that the bill was designed not only to give legal remedies to the victims of discrimination but also to perform a critical educational role in the community. He said, and those words are apposite today:

The proscribing of racial discrimination in legislative form will require legal sanctions. These will also make people more aware of the evils, the undesirable and unsociable consequences of discrimination-the hurtful consequences of discrimination- and make them more obvious and conspicuous.

In addition to these two historic reforms, Kep Enderby was also responsible for decriminalising homosexuality and abortion in the territories. He was always a passionate advocate for Canberra and the ACT. He used his first speech in the House to advocate greater representation in the federal parliament for the people of the ACT and to advocate for self-government.

He lost his seat in the double dissolution election of 1975, which swept Labor from office, yet his reforms have endured—they have not just endured, they have engendered real tangible and progressive social change, and they have made Australia a more just and tolerant country. For that, we owe Kep Enderby a great deal.

In 1982 he was appointed as a Justice of the New South Wales Supreme Court, a position he held for 10 years. In retirement he was involved in the Esperanto movement, believing that a common international language would promote international peace and understanding. His commitment to human rights, civil liberties and social reform remain undented.

People who knew him have described him as a whirlwind of ideas. One of his successors representing the people of Canberra, Mr Leigh, said recently that he was someone who never fluctuated in his principles, who held fast to his views as a social democrat. I extend our deepest sympathies to his family members in their loss.

3:48 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party, Assistant Minister for Health) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution to the condolence motion on Keppel—or Kep—Enderby QC. Mr Enderby entered parliament at a by-election as the Labor member for the Australian Capital Territory in 1970. He was re-elected in 1972 and then, following a redistribution, was elected as the first member for the newly created seat of Canberra in 1974. He lost his seat in the double dissolution of 1975.

During the Whitlam government Mr Enderby held various portfolios, including Minister for the Northern Territory. However, he is most well known for his role as Attorney-General from February 1975 until the dissolution of parliament on 11 November 1975. Mr Enderby went on to become a judge of the New South Wales Supreme Court and chairman of the Serious Offenders Review Council.

Retirement allowed him to pursue his interest in Esperanto, becoming President of the Universal Esperanto Association. This involvement was borne out of a belief that if the world spoke a single language it would lessen conflict. He was also an advocate for voluntary euthanasia. From 1986 to 1998 he was the national president of the Australia-USSR society.

Kep Enderby lived a full life for a boy from Dubbo, whose first claim to fame was as an amateur golf champion before enlisting in the Royal Australian Air Force and after the war training as a barrister. He flew helicopters into his 60s. His contribution to the other place included introducing the Family Law Act, which included no-fault divorce, and the establishment of the Family Court as well as the abolition of the federal death penalty.

In his speech on the Territory's Senate bill, Mr Enderby said, 'It is true that a long-term policy of the Australian Labor Party is not to encourage the long future of the Senate, but here one has to grasp the facts of political life.' He concluded his contribution by saying, 'Let the government do the right thing by the people of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory and let them have Senate representation.' He made news by backing working mums, the establishment of childcare services and sick-leave entitlements for either parent. This was big news in 1970.

In 1971 he was the vice president of the Kanangra Society, the Aboriginal society, which sponsored the observance of National Aborigines Day in Canberra and Queanbeyan. He stated that Australians were becoming increasingly aware of all forms of social injustice but particularly in relation to the Aborigine. He really was ahead of his time. He stated that Aborigines suffered because they were discriminated against by their situation and lack of education and employment opportunities. Those are the very things we are trying to remedy by this government's commitments to get Indigenous children to school, adults to work and safer communities.

Interestingly, what also made the news back then was Mr Enderby's call for Australia to be republic and his opposition to the Black Mountain telecommunications tower. On behalf of the Nationals in the Senate, I extend to Mr Enderby's family our sincere condolences.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.