Senate debates

Monday, 2 May 2016


Rocher, Mr Allan Charles

3:37 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 18 March this year of Allan Charles Rocher, a senator for the state of Western Australia from 1978 to 1981 and a member of the House of Representatives for the division of Curtin, Western Australia from 1981 to 1998.

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

by leave—I move:

That the Senate records its deep regret at the death, on 18 March 2016, of Mr Allan Charles Rocher, former senator for Western Australia and member for Curtin. May it place on record its appreciation of his long and highly distinguished service to the nation and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

Allan Rocher was born on 16 February 1936 in Deloraine, Tasmania and educated at Burnie High School. Before being elected to parliament, Allan undertook national service and worked as a commercial arbitrator and then as a registered builder. A leader in the building industry, he went on to become the President of the Master Builders Association of Western Australia. Allan was elected as a senator for Western Australia at the 1977 election, taking up his seat on 1 July 1978. He served in the Senate until February 1981, when he then resigned to contest the by-election for the seat of Curtin in the House of Representatives.

Senator Brandis, who regrets he is unable to be here to move this motion, has told me it was around this time that he first came to know Allan Rocher, for whom he had a very warm regard. Allan served as the member for Curtin until 1998, first as a Liberal and from 1995 as an independent. He was rightly conscious of being the third of the four distinguished individuals to serve as the member for Curtin since the creation of the electorate in 1949—commencing with Sir Paul Hasluck, Sir Victor Garland, Allan himself and now Ms Julie Bishop.

Allan was a champion of free enterprise and small business, and showed a strong commitment to providing opportunities for all Australians to benefit from national prosperity. He was part of what, in his first speech in this place, he called 'the movement against state control' towards 'the discipline of the competitive market'. This included strong opposition to protectionism. Allan was an advocate of 'budgetary restraint' and also of what he called 'reversing the trend towards centralisation of powers in Canberra'. He was deeply conscious of 'the past and potential contribution of Western Australia to the wealth-creating process'—and how right he was.

Allan served as Deputy Government Whip in the Senate and held various positions in the House of Representatives, including as Deputy Chair of Committees from 1983 to 1990 and as Second Deputy Speaker from 1994 to 1996. Allan served in the opposition shadow ministry from 1990 to 1993, including as shadow minister for defence science and personnel. Allan was a member of several parliamentary committees and participated in various international delegations. He served as parliamentary adviser in the United Nations General Assembly from September to December 1991.

Allan was a strong supporter and 'close associate' of John Howard. Despite his departure from the Liberal Party, Allan's personal loyalty to his colleagues and commitment to his principles remained steadfast. He never lost sight of the great privilege of serving in this place and knew that his most important duty was to the people of Curtin and to bettering Australia for all. I think it is important in this place to reflect on Senator Rocher's efforts to reach across the party divide during his two decades of service.

3:41 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 Allan Charles Rocher, a senator for Western Australia from 1978 to 1981 and the member for Curtin in the other place from 1981 to 1998. I convey at the outset the opposition's sympathy to Mr Rocher's friends, family and other relatives. As Senator Scullion said, former Senator Rocher was elected to the Senate in 1977, representing the Liberal Party of Australia, prior to which he had been President of the Master Builders Association as well as a company director and commercial arbitrator. In his first speech, he defended the Senate's rights and privileges, stating:

… we in the Senate provide one of the more important checks and balances within our constitutional democracy.

He also said:

Our constitutional obligations can be further strengthened, by developing the Senate's other powers of scrutiny and review of federal affairs.

Less than three years later, he made the decision to seek what he no doubt saw as greener pastures in the other place, and he resigned from this place to contest, and subsequently win, a by-election in the division named for former Labor Prime Minister John Curtin in February 1981. He went on to win re-election in that division six times, the last as an independent.

He served as a member of the opposition shadow ministry from April 1990 to April 1993, primarily as parliamentary secretary to Dr John Hewson, the then Leader of the Opposition. His split from the Liberal Party came as a result of losing preselection in 1995, despite the support of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard. As the record shows, it was a preselection battle fought amid significant debate about the role of factional powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne in the Western Australian division of the Liberal Party. As an independent, he continued to strongly support the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Howard, characterising himself as 'a more reliable supporter of John Howard' than his endorsed Liberal opponent. He had earlier crunched the numbers for Mr Howard when he brought the ill-fated leadership of Alexander Downer to a close. Mr Howard returned the favour, stating Mr Rocher was likely to become Speaker in a Howard coalition government. However, although Mr Rocher retained Curtin in 1996, this did not transpire. Mr Howard supported his repatriation to the Liberal Party, although others, including the then state president, David Johnston, and the President of the Western Australian Legislative Council, George Cash, were less encouraging. Mr Rocher remained an independent and was defeated in the 1998 election by Ms Bishop, the now Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party. He went on to serve as consul-general in Los Angeles.

As with many Liberals from Western Australia, Mr Rocher strongly asserted the principles of individual rights in economic affairs. Quoting from Hayek's publication Individualism and economic order in his first speech to the Senate, he emphasised a belief in free markets with minimal government interference. Indeed, he took on established interests in business and the National Country Party, whom he saw as paying lip-service to economic freedom whilst being, in the words of Hayek:

… defenders of privileges and advocates of government activity in their favor rather than opponents of all privilege.

A reversal of the trend towards centralisation of powers in Canberra was another cause Mr Rocher espoused, as well as what he perceived as the need for fairer treatment of Western Australia in the distribution of Commonwealth government assistance.

He passed on 18 March 2016 at the age of 80—a long and full life. We, the opposition, extend our sympathies to his family, friends and former colleagues at this time.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.