Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


Sim, Mr John Peter, CBE

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 29 July this year of John Peter Sim CBE, a senator for the state of Western Australia from 1964 to 1981.

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Assistant Minister for Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 29 July 2015, of John Peter Sim, CBE, former senator for Western Australia, places on record its appreciation of his long and highly distinguished service to the nation and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

John Peter Sim, always known as Peter, was born on 21 January 1917 in Colac, Victoria, into a farming family. He was educated at St Peter's Anglican parish school in Murrumbeena, the local state primary school, and then went on to attend Scotch College in Melbourne from 1927 to 1930. After leaving school, he worked on family properties and, at the outbreak of World War II, he served first in the militia and then enlisted in the AIF in 1941. He was commissioned as a lieutenant, posted first to Geelong and then to the Northern Territory until 1943. He spent much of the rest of the war on active service in New Guinea, interrupted with training in intelligence and photo interpretation in Queensland. At the close of hostilities in 1945, Peter Sim was made commander of the Rabaul compound for suspected war criminals and was made a temporary captain. In 1946 he returned to civilian life.

Attracted by opportunities to buy rural land in Western Australia, Peter and his twin brother, Hugh, moved to that state in 1946, each acquiring farms and embarking on wool growing. Their parents later joined them in the west. His family had a tradition of involvement with the United Australia Party in Victoria, so, on his arrival in Western Australia in 1946, Peter Sim joined the newly formed Liberal Party and was active in branch affairs. In 1958 he was selected for the third position on the Senate ticket but was unsuccessful. In 1960 he was elected vice-president of the Liberal and Country League and chaired the rural committee. In 1964 Senator Seddon Vincent died and the party looked for a replacement who might speak for rural and regional Western Australia. It is worth noting that Peter Sim beat Reg Withers in that preselection ballot and was appointed to the Senate at the end of 1964. He was subsequently returned at many an election—in 1966, 1967, 1974 and 1975.

Peter Sim concentrated his attention in the Senate on agriculture, foreign policy and Papua New Guinea. He was regarded as a courteous senator who was always well prepared in debate. Peter Sim was supportive of the gradualist approach to independence for Papua New Guinea and showed his own independent streak in frequently questioning accepted wisdom on a range of foreign policy areas, especially the place of Taiwan and Russian expansionism. He was a longstanding member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, later to become the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, and was chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence from 1971 to 1973 and again from 1976 until 1981. He worked very hard to secure bipartisanship in its reports.

Although unafraid to sometimes step on the toes of the government of which he was a part, his integrity and approach to his parliamentary duties were well regarded and were recognised in the New Year's honours of 1983, when Peter Sim was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire for parliamentary service. In his valedictory speech, Senator Sim drew on the old quote 'curse my enemies and bless my friends' and said that he wanted to leave the chamber 'without having to curse anyone and only to bless my friends on both sides of the chamber'. He singled out a number of senators from the other side of the chamber, some of whom he said had become his friends. He was certainly a parliamentarian of the old school. He was a senator for Western Australia from 1964 to 1981.

After leaving the Senate, Mr Sim continued to be involved in public life. He served on the Senate of Murdoch University and as a board member of the Asia Research Centre. He was President of the Western Australian branch of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, and the annual AIIA Peter Sim Prize for the best undergraduate student in international relations at the University of Western Australia is named in his honour. His long contribution to Australian-Japanese relations was recognised in 2006, when that country awarded him the Order of the Rising Sun.

In 1968 Peter Sim married Paula Clarkson, and it is to her, to their daughter, Elizabeth, to their son-in-law, Ross, and to their grandchildren, Erin and Katelyn, that we express our sincere sympathies today. Dying in his 99th year, Peter Sim served his country in war and his state in the Australian Senate, through the Liberal Party, for some 17 years, and he made a substantial contribution to public discourse and international understanding. We honour him today.

3:42 pm

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

I rise to speak on this motion of condolence on the passing of John Peter Sim CBE, a senator for Western Australia from 1964 to 1981, on behalf of the opposition. At the outset, I convey our sympathy to Mr Sim's relatives and friends.

Peter Sim came to the Senate in 1964 to fill a casual vacancy and was subsequently re-elected to complete the remainder of the term in 1966. He was re-elected in 1967, 1974 and 1975. As with many of his generation, his early adult years were dominated by World War II. He served from 1941 to 1946, remaining in Papua New Guinea following the end of hostilities, the 70th anniversary of which we mark this week. In light of this history, it is conspicuous that in 2006 he was bestowed with the second-highest award given by the Japanese Emperor, in recognition of his actions in parliament and afterwards to foster friendly and constructive relations between Australia and Japan. This included heading what was described as an 'influential inquiry' in 1972 that resulted in closer economic and cultural ties with Japan. In addition, following his departure from the Australian Senate, he helped to establish Japanese language courses and promote academic exchanges between the two countries as a member of another senate, that of Murdoch University, and later of the board of its Asia Research Centre.

Having worked on his family's rural properties in Victoria prior to the outbreak of war, following his return to Australia Mr Sim moved to Western Australia with his brother, keen to take advantage of cheap farmland in the Great Southern region. At the same time, he joined the Liberal Party and, after being unsuccessful in a bid for election from the third place on the Senate ticket in 1958, was selected over future Liberal Senate leader Reg Withers to fill the casual vacancy I referenced, in 1964. As the party was seeking a candidate who could speak for rural and regional Western Australia—The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate records—Sim was preferred over Withers 'by a wide margin'.

The decision to join the Liberal Party and not the Country Party is a significant one because it provides a frame through which to understand Peter Sim's approach to issues of concern to rural constituents. Like others from both sides of politics with a farming background, such as Liberal Bert Kelly from South Australia and Labor's Peter Walsh, also from Western Australia and whom we farewelled earlier this year, Peter Sim recognised the damage that the Country Party's inward-looking policies and reliance on protection and subsidies were doing to agricultural industry in Australia. Mr Sim disliked the system of high tariff protection that was virtually unchallenged in Australia until the 1970s and supported attempts to liberalise trade. He praised the Whitlam government's efforts in this area.

Mr Sim served on a number of parliamentary committees at a time before the current system of standing committees was put into place, and his committee work was well regarded. I particularly note his work on the Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs. This committee recommended increases to Commonwealth payments to hospitals for beds occupied by uninsured patients, which led to Labor moving an amendment to the National Health Bill 1970. Peter Sim crossed the floor with two of his colleagues to support the successful Labor amendment.

Peter Sim's interest in foreign affairs and defence has been well documented, and he chaired the Senate standing committee from 1971 to 1973 and again from 1976 until his retirement. Building on his war experience in Papua New Guinea, Mr Sim expanded his horizons and took a particular interest in policy in Asia and the Pacific. He worked assiduously to ensure the reports presented were bipartisan and, on at least one occasion, joined with Labor members to deliver a minority report. He was not afraid to speak against the policies of his own government in the areas of foreign affairs and defence.

Delivering remarks on the valedictory in 1981, Labor's Senate leader, John Button, noted:

Senator Sim will be remembered particularly for his thoughtful and courageous contributions over some period to foreign affairs debates and the committees concerned with foreign affairs.

In a lighter moment, Senator Button also apologised for continually referring to Sim as 'Senator Slim' one night during debate.

In his own valedictory remarks, then Senator Sim was generous enough to state:

I have enjoyed the friendship of many people from all walks of life, but, above all, I mention my political opponents. I will not name them all, but I look across and see perhaps some of my closest friends sitting on the opposite side of the chamber.

Peter Sim died on 29 July 2015 at the age of 98.

Again we extend our deepest sympathies to his family, friends and former colleagues at this time, and we honour his service.

3:48 pm

Photo of Nigel ScullionNigel Scullion (NT, Country Liberal Party, Minister for Indigenous Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I also rise to associate The Nationals with this condolence motion for Mr John Peter Sim CBE, former senator for Western Australia. I would like to take the opportunity to first acknowledge that it has been a pretty difficult week for parliament. Yesterday we remembered Alby Schultz and Don Randall, who sat in the other place. Today we remember John Peter Sim, senator for Western Australia from 1964 to 1981. While it has been some time since Mr Sim has been in this place, it is just as important that we reflect on his service and great contribution to the state of Western Australia and the nation.

Peter was a country boy. He was raised on a farm in Victoria. He worked on his family farms, mainly farming cattle and lamb. After the outbreak of the Second World War, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was first posted to Geelong before spending time in my electorate, the Northern Territory, for over two years. Mr Sim then served for two years in Papua New Guinea, and at the close of hostilities in 1945 he was responsible for the compound for suspected war criminals. Like all service men and women, his service to this country should not be forgotten, and I would like to pay my respects particularly for his service.

After the Second World War, Mr Sim relocated to Western Australia, where he went into partnership with his twin brother, Hugh, and bought farms across the state. Farming has been a cornerstone of Australia's development, and we in The Nationals recognise how challenging it can be to start up your own agricultural business. It must have been especially rewarding to go into partnership and share this work with your own twin brother.

Mr Sim was chosen by the parliament to represent the state of Western Australia in the Senate after the passing of Senator Seddon Vincent in 1964. Like many of my colleagues in The Nationals, he was selected because he was a voice for regional and rural areas of his state. Then, as a Liberal, Mr Sim was re-elected by the people of Western Australia in 1967 and represented his state for nearly 17 years. Mr Sim made a great contribution throughout this long service, particularly on issues of foreign affairs and defence policy, as well as matters affecting the agricultural sector, given his strong experience in this area. He was well known for being keen to get firsthand experience to inform his views on foreign policy and made multiple visits to Indonesia, Japan and Taiwan. His expertise in this area was recognised, as he was a member of the Senate standing committee on foreign affairs and defence for 10 years, as well as being chairman of the committee.

Mr Sim was not afraid to speak his mind. He made independent decisions, even if it meant crossing the floor, including when he did not agree with the policies of his own party. He made close friends, not only his party members but also those who sat opposite in the chamber. In Mr Sim's valedictory speech he said:

… Curse my enemies and bless my friends. I hope I leave this place without having to curse anyone and only to bless my friends on both sides of the chamber.

In 1982, Mr Sim was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire, and in 2006, significantly, Japan recognised his long contribution to Australia-Japan relations and assistance particularly to Japanese officers accused of war crimes in obtaining justice by awarding him the highest civilian honour, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star.

Mr Sim's contribution had a great influence on this place and on the lives of people across Australia. On behalf of The Nationals, I offer our condolences to Mr Sim's family and friends. They should be very proud of his achievements.

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

I ask honourable senators to stand with me in silence to signify their assent to the motion.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.