Thursday, 22 June 2017
Sciacca, Hon. Concetto Antonio 'Con', AO
It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death, on 21 June this year, of the Hon. Concetto Antonio 'Con' Sciacca AO, a former minister and member of the House of Representatives for the division of Bowman, Queensland, from 1987 until 1996 and again from 1998 until 2004. I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Brandis.
by leave—I move:
That the Senate records its deep sorrow at the death, on 21 June 2017, of Concetto Antonio (Con) Sciacca AO, a former Member of the House of Representatives for the division of Bowen and Minister for Veterans' Affairs, among other portfolios, places on record its gratitude for his service to the Parliament and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.
Con Sciacca's life was a great Australian story, a great Australian immigrant story. He was born in Sicily on 13 June 1947. At the age of four, Con, together with his family, followed a path familiar to many Italian Australians, leaving postwar Europe in the hope of securing a brighter future in Australia.
The Sciaccas settled in Queensland, where Con's father worked as a canecutter—another very familiar story for Australians of Italian heritage. Con always took immense pride in his Sicilian heritage, and in his maiden speech he told the story of his family and of others like them who had made the courageous journey to Australia in search of a better life. 'Like me,' he said:
Many of them are descended … from poor farming families. Their families, like mine, came to Australia with no knowledge of our language and, in fact, often unable to read or write even their own language. Their only material possessions were the clothes on their backs, but they brought with them the most valuable asset of all—a vision and a dream that through hard work, determination and tenacity they would succeed. Included in this dream was their firm belief that they could achieve for their children and for their grandchildren that which was not available to them in their own country, namely, equal opportunity—the same equal opportunity that Australians often take for granted.
What Con had so eloquently described in that maiden speech was the great Australian success story of so many migrant families, of which his life and that of his family serve as a shining example.
The political bug hit Con Sciacca very early in life. He joined the Queensland branch of the Labor Party's youth wing at the age of 17, and by 21 he had been elected state president of Queensland Young Labor. It was also at the age of 21 that Con made his first tilt at elected office, as the endorsed Labor candidate for what was then the safe Liberal seat of Mount Coot-tha in the Queensland parliament, at the 1969 Queensland state election. As Con recalled in his maiden speech, he had the rather unique distinction of casting his first ever vote in his own favour.
Between that first encounter with a ballot box and his eventual election to the House of Representatives, Con was admitted as a solicitor and built a large and successful legal practice in Brisbane, specialising in industrial law and general common law damages claims. I practised at the bar in those years, and I remember CA Sciacca and Associates was an extremely successful firm, with a very large following—a large union clientele but also a very large following among the Italian community.
In 1987, Con was endorsed for and then successfully contested the seat of Bowman at the July double dissolution election of that year, having defeated the sitting Labor member, Len Keogh, in the preselection. As he noted in his maiden speech, at the time he was elected he was only the second ever Italian member of this parliament. He was re-elected in 1990 with an increased majority, and thereafter appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Security.
Tragedy struck the Sciacca family in 1992 with the death of their son, Sam, then only 19, from Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. This was to have a profound effect on Con's life, prompting him to undertake a number of charitable projects aimed at raising awareness and assisting other families affected by cancer, including through the establishment of the Sam Sciacca Travelling Fellowship, which facilitated international health experts to visit Australia in order to present lectures on the latest developments in cancer research and technology. As Con reflected at the time: 'Sammy's death, something like that humanises you, brings you back to realise what is really important. It gave us back the old Labor spirit of mateship, that spirit that says when the chips are down you put aside your differences and help each other.'
At the March 1993 election, at which Labor's nationwide victory secured the Keating government's record fifth term, Con Sciacca was, once again, returned to parliament and served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Arts and Administrative Services. On 25 March 1994, he was promoted to the ministry, as Minister for Veterans' Affairs, succeeding former senator John Faulkner in that portfolio. In October 1995, he added to his portfolio responsibilities the role of Minister Assisting the Treasurer for Superannuation. At John Howard's landslide 1996 election victory, which saw Labor lose 29 seats, Con Sciacca lost Bowman to the Liberal Party's candidate, Andrea West. However, in 1998 he recontested the seat and successfully retook it, with a 4.2 per cent swing to the Labor Party.
Following an unfavourable redistribution, from the Labor Party's point of view, in Brisbane's eastern suburbs, Con Sciacca decided to leave Bowman and contest the newly created seat of Bonner in the 2004 poll—Bonner being named, of course, in honour of a former distinguished Liberal member of this House, the late Neville Bonner. Running against him was Ross Vasta, a fellow Italian Australian, who fondly recalls attending Italian parties in his youth with the Sciacca brothers. Con and Ross developed a friendship and a rapport during that election campaign that was unusual by the standards of modern-day political campaigning. Ross, now the member for Bonner, remembers receiving phone calls from Con in the final two weeks of the campaign, where they would compare notes on the day and, in particular, on how many postal votes each of them had received. It says volumes about the esteem in which Con Sciacca was held by the Italian community in Brisbane that, on polling day itself, Ross Vasta's father, Angelo, announced that he would feel unable to hand out Liberal how-to-vote cards for his son out of respect, he said, for the Sciacca family. I recall being with Ross Vasta on the night that he won the seat from Con Sciacca in 2004. I was the patron Liberal senator for that electorate at the time. I remember being present when Ross received the phone call from Con Sciacca congratulating him on his victory. A more gracious and generous exchange is hard to imagine.
For Con, post-parliamentary life marked a new beginning. He continued his charitable works, and his spirit of community endured long beyond his time in this place. Indeed, it continued until his death only yesterday. In 2006 that community, public and political service was recognised by his appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia. As recently as March 2014, Con took up a place as deputy chair of the Anzac Centenary Public Fund. Among the numerous accolades bestowed upon him, in addition to the Order of Australia, were the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic, the Order of the Lion of Finland and the Centenary Medal for service to the veteran community. He was also a life member of the Returned and Services League, a life member of the RAAF Association and a life member of the Naval Association of Australia.
Con's lifelong contribution to public service, to business and to the law reflects an inspiring commitment to Australian public life, to the very hopes and dreams to which is family aspired when they left war-torn Europe in search of a better future. For those who knew him best, Con Sciacca will be remembered as a beloved colleague and mentor, a generous friend with an infectious and at times wicked sense of humour and a man dedicated to his family, his party and his country.
I last saw Con Sciacca last year. We had a mutual friend in former senator Santo Santoro. Santo was indeed a very close friend and business partner of Con Sciacca's and saw him very often during the time of the illness which led to his death yesterday. At Santo's 60th birthday party last year, there were many speeches. It was a night of much mirth, much dancing, much high spirits and many, many speeches. One of the speeches was given by Con Sciacca. It was the last time I ever saw him, and I remember the joke he told. He observed that he was at an event surrounded by Liberal Party politicians and supporters, and he reminded people of a saying that he very frequently used: the worst Labor government is better than the best Liberal government. Then he paused and said, 'At least, I used to think that, until I saw the Rudd government!'
Con Sciacca was a good man who lived the Australian dream and did a very great deal for this nation. He will be dearly missed by his many friends, colleagues and professional associates but in particular, of course, by his wife, Karen; his daughter, Zina; his granddaughter, Grace; and his stepsons, Nicholas and Daniel. To them, on behalf of the government, I offer my sincerest condolences.
I rise of behalf of the opposition to acknowledge the passing of a former minister and former member of the House of Representatives, the honourable Concetto Antonio Sciacca, AO, known to all of us as Con. Labor has lost one of our own. Not only do we extend our condolences to the family and friends of Con following his death, but the Labor Party shares, in some part, in their grief. Con Sciacca was a much-loved member of our party. A number of my colleagues will be speaking on this condolence motion to reflect some of their personal recollections of him.
He was a member of the House of Representatives for 15 years and a minister for six. His valuable contribution to our nation is undisputed. I served one term with Con Sciacca, and I remember him as being larger than life and a man full of humour. I also remember him as a man who loved this country, a great patriot. He was a mentor and friend to many, including those who serve in this parliament as well as a number of staff who worked with him. His contribution extended well beyond the political sphere.
He was a man who carried his heritage with pride, a man whose story expresses one of the great Australian narratives—the son of a father who left Sicily to cut cane so that his kids would have a better life, and a son who rose to be not only a member of this parliament but a minister of the Crown. Con Sciacca was born in Sicily in 1951 and, as my colleague Senator Brandis has said, he went on to be Australia's first Italian-born federal minister. He credited his tenacity and determination to his family roots and his upbringing. Variously a bank officer and a solicitor, amongst other occupations, before entering politics, Con was elected to represent the division of Bowman in 1987. He was a member of the AWU and obviously was bitten by the political bug early. He first sought election to the Queensland parliament in 1969 after joining the ALP at the age of 17. He would go on to be re-elected in 1990 and 1993, followed by an interregnum between 1996 and his return in 1998, followed by a further victory in 2001 in the same election in which I entered this parliament.
In his first speech he reflected on his migrant journey and acknowledged how proud he was to represent the party that was, in his words, 'governing with compassion and authority, good sense and confidence'. He contrasted this with the performance of the National Party Queensland state government at the time—in particular, the contrast between what he saw as the draconian approach to the rights of working people being imposed by that regime and the cooperative and rational approach of the Hawke government. These themes of fairness for working people and the values brought by Con's multicultural background would dominate much of his career.
As the Labor government approached 1990, the leadership fissures between then Prime Minister Bob Hawke and his Treasurer began to escalate. As we all know, that came to a head in 1991. Con was a very strong supporter of Bob Hawke—one of his most loyal supporters—even when personal circumstances prevented him from being present for the final vote just before Christmas of that year that saw Paul Keating ascend to the Labor leadership and Prime Ministership. Bob Hawke had earlier appointed Con Sciacca to the position of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Security. He went on to retain this post with the change of leadership and gathered a range of additional appointments on the way. He was then given the opportunity to serve as a minister for the first time.
It was as minister for Veterans' Affairs that Con Sciacca perhaps made his greatest impact and for which he is deservedly remembered. Appointed to the position by Prime Minister Keating in 1994, he played a key role in the Australia Remembers campaign in 1995 commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. It is an initiative that earned him the thanks and respect of countless veterans. And I venture to suggest that it is still the benchmark for the respect we show those who served our nation.
The 1996 election that swept the Keating government from office took Con with it. Fortunately for him and for Labor he was returned in 1998 and would go on to hold the seat for another term in 2001. Under Kim Beazley he had responsibility for immigration and multicultural affairs, a portfolio to which he was well suited because of his own heritage and as a strong supporter of Australia's great multicultural character. His defeat in 2004 contesting the new seat of Bonner, which Senator Brandis has spoken of, provided the opportunity for a second post-political life. He worked as a lawyer and partnered with former Nationals minister Larry Anthony in a consulting firm. He even opened a cafe, now run by his daughter, on the ground floor of the Brisbane building, where he kept an office.
I do want to return to the 1990s before I conclude, because in the midst of the leadership tussle about which I have spoken Con was engaged in a much more personal battle, which was his son's battle with cancer. Sam died at the age of 19, in 1992, of a rare form of bone cancer, Ewing's Sarcoma. Con's response was twofold. First he commissioned a book—Body and Soul: Children, Teenagers and Cancerlaunched by the Governor-General, Bill Hayden, in 1994. Later he would set up a fellowship to enable experts to visit Australia to lecture health professionals on the latest developments in research and technology. When he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2006, his service to cancer research institutions was acknowledged and he said it was an honour he would not have received had it not been for Sam.
He was a senior at St Joseph's Nudgee College and came home one day with a sore back. Seven months later, he was gone. I'm dedicating my award to my late son. Without him, I never would have got it.
Con Sciacca was a colourful, generous personality. He maintained wide friendships on all sides of politics. In May he gave an emotional interview to The Courier Mail. He said he was determined to celebrate his 70th birthday on 30 June, quipping, 'I'm looking to go out with a bang.' The succession of people who have visited him over the last few months is testament to the esteem with which he was held by so many.
Tributes have flowed since his death was announced. The Premier of Queensland has described him as 'a good friend, a mentor, a community champion and a true gentleman'. The federal Leader of the Opposition has acknowledged his unstinting support. And such remarks have been typical of those made in the last 24 hours.
Con lived a magnificent life, an Australian life, the life of a migrant, a man who was a patriot and, as I said, whose story speaks to one of the great narratives of our nation. That he was able to achieve what he did speaks volumes about our country. It speaks volumes about the opportunities we open and accept from migrants around the world. His achievements also reflect the immeasurable contribution made to our country by migrants.
Con Sciacca's service to our nation in our parliament and in the broader community was distinguished. His personal friendships extended across the political divide and demonstrate the regard with which he was held, and his passing is a source of profound sadness for many. So Labor extends our deepest sympathies following his passing to his family and friends and particularly his wife, Karen; daughter, Zina; granddaughter, Grace; stepsons Daniel and Nicholas; and the very many members of his family.
I too rise to pay tribute to the life of a great Australian. Of course, my name is Concetta, and Concetto is the male of my name. Con was so proud of not just his Italian roots but his Sicilian roots. He would always tell you that, of course, there was a great difference. He was proudly born in Sicily on 30 June 1947 in a little village called Piedimonte Etneo and he migrated to Australia in 1951. Con and I shared many parallels. The Attorney mentioned that his father came to Australia and was a cane cutter. My father came to Australia and was a cane cutter. We always talked and had the opportunity to talk about the parallels in our lives, and so it is probably with some emotion that I stand to pay this tribute.
Con, of course, died yesterday in, I have to say, probably the way he lived his life. All his family was around him. He had taken the last rites, and lots of family and lots of friends were around who had come to pay their respects, which is very, very typical of the tradition and particularly the tradition of Sicily. When he gave his maiden speech when he first came to this place, he talked about his family story and he talked in particular about his proud Sicilian heritage. Of course, he also used the opportunity to talk about the Italian community in Australia and its contribution.
He was the second-ever Italian-born member of parliament. He was the first Italian-born minister. From my perspective, I was the first female of Italian origin to become a minister in Australia, so I share the pride that he had when he did become a minister. I know that it was not just for him and for his family; it was for the whole Italian community.
His story was very much one of the migrant success story. So many people came from Sicily and left their country so that their children and grandchildren could be very successful. The Sciacca family was the embodiment of that. When he gave his maiden speech, he ended by saying, 'Despite the hard road behind me, I have never lost that tenacity and determination characteristic of the Sicilian race.' Of course that tenacity and determination was very, very evident, particularly as he fought his battle with cancer. As has been said, tragically his son died aged 19 of a rare and virulent bone cancer which usually strikes young people during their teenage years—Ewing's sarcoma. He later went on to do a lot of work in the cancer space but also, as Senator Wong has said, commissioning a book, Body and soul: children, teenagers and cancer, in 1994 to help other families facing similar challenges.
One of the things that I want to put on the record and acknowledge was that Con always stood up for the Italo-Australian community at times when the community was criticised. I just went through some of the old clippings and came across this one in June 1993. The heading is: 'Australian Italians tired of the Mafia tag.' Con Sciacca was making some comments and talked about some of the things that he had been called. When you look at what happened then, and having been through this myself, and particularly when you look at what we see today and some of the issues that have been seen recently, particularly in Muslim communities, often communities and people in communities do get labelled negatively. What Con was talking about and talked about at that time is a very good example of what we too are seeing—often whole communities get tagged just because of the deeds of some rotten apples in those communities. Con was never backward in coming forward and standing up for the community that had helped him so much to get there.
He did break new ground when he became the first Italian-born government minister in Australia. He jokes about having become Minister for Veterans' Affairs. Rather than getting upset over Italian war jokes, as one article said, he decided to get ahead. We know that he was so successful as Minister for Veterans' Affairs and he was so proud to have become Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I will come back and make some comments on that in a moment.
I was present when Con became commendatore. He had previously been honoured by the Italian government. Both of us proudly held the title of Knight of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic. Con, having become a minister before me, became a commendatore before me. I was there the day that he got his commendatore at Circular Quay. It was a great day, when we all celebrated with him.
The legacy that Con has left is very much from the time when he was Minister for Veterans' Affairs. There was a piece written in The Age in August 1995. It talked about the work that Con had done as Minister for Veterans' Affairs. He became the first Australian politician and one of the few non-veterans to be awarded honorary life membership of the RSL. He was quoted in an article in September 1995:
Mr Sciacca said the award was particularly significant for him because he had been born in a wartime enemy country, Italy, and had arrived in Australia as a four-year-old immigrant. "In my culture we revere old people and when I got the opportunity to do something to recognise the contribution of this generation I jumped at it. This was a great generation of Australians and we had to tell them how much we appreciate them. I was fair dinkum about that and I think they can tell when someone is fair dinkum," he said.
He was very fair dinkum about this. When he addressed the New South Wales RSL, after he had given his address, apparently he thought that people were booing him. He was a bit perturbed by this. This is in an article in August 1995:
"They're not booing you, Minister," the president whispered.
"That's the ninth division's battle cry. They reserve it for their generals."
The article goes on to say how emotional Con felt, because of his history and because of the work that he did. He was very committed to his work as Minister for Veterans' Affairs. I remember one time we were in Sicily attending a conference when he was minister, and we all stopped for Anzac Day. It was a very emotional time.
I cannot help but quote this article from The Courier Mail of 23 October 2004. Con was defeated, as the Attorney said, for the seat of Bonner:
… but, in usual style, offered some "friendly advice" to his former leader.
Mr Sciacca warned Mark Latham not to become a victim of factions and not to allow the party to move towards the left.
"Do not let the Labor Party lurch or have a perception of it lurching to the left," Mr Sciacca said. "A left-leaning Labor Party, in my view, in modern-day politics in Australia is not electable. You should always try to keep that middle of the road."
I thought I would quote that today. But, as has been said, he then, post politics, went on to have another very successful career. My mother-in-law lived on the Gold Coast, and Sciacca and Sciacca was one of those law firms that were everywhere in Queensland, even on the Gold Coast, so there was a local branch even where my mother-in-law lived.
I conclude by offering my condolences to his wife, Karen, to his daughter, Zina, and to all the Sciacca family and friends. I know that I speak on behalf of the entire Italo-Australian community in paying tribute to a man who did our community proud. Vale, Concetto Sciacca.
I rise to pay my respects to Con Sciacca, who, as previous speakers have said, was born in the Sicilian village of Piedimonte Etneo and travelled to Australia at the tender age of four with his parents and brother, Joe, in 1951. As others have indicated, Con gave lifelong commitment to the Labor Party. That commenced very early in his life, at the age of 17, and he became president of Young Labor, as has already been said. From those humble beginnings Con went on to become a revered elder statesman of the Labor Party in Queensland and a friend and mentor to many.
A lawyer by profession, Con had a great respect for the law and the institution of the law. His legal practice in Brisbane was renowned for its industrial work. His work in industrial law, workers compensation and common-law damages claims brought him into direct contact with the trade union movement and its members, which is how I first came to know Con. His work gave him an appreciation of the day-to-day problems which workers face in their workplaces. In the early 1980s Con was one of the pioneers of the practice of providing a free first legal consultation to injured workers. He did this out of a genuine concern for the plight of working people, who are often denied access to justice.
As has been said, Con was elected in 1987 as the member for Bowman. Whilst people have commented on the fact that he was the second ever Italian-born member of this parliament, he was the very first Sicilian-born member of this parliament. As a new Australian, immigration and ethnic affairs were a part of his heritage and matters about which he was always very passionate. In his first speech he said:
Australia has come a long way from the days of its White Australia policy. This policy was effectively traded in for a multicultural Australia for unashamedly practical reasons after the Second World War. Only the most narrow-minded person would now deny the success of multiculturalism and the contribution made to Australia, both economically and culturally, by migrants of all nationalities.
As already commented on, Con was Minister for Veterans' Affairs from 1994 to 1996. He often said to me that one of his proudest achievements was the Australia Remembers program to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. For many years after that veterans around Australia sang his praises for the respect and support that he extended to them. In March 2014, Con took up his place as deputy chair of the Anzac Centenary Public Fund. In 2006 Con was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. Senator Wong referred to the fact that he dedicated that award to his son, who passed away tragically at the age of 19. I will not say much more about that, but I know that for many years after the death of his son Con felt the loss very deeply. He was very emotional about that. He left no stone unturned at the time to look for cures for Sam, including a visit to Lourdes.
Con valued loyalty above everything else, and he was a strong supporter of Kim Beazley. As one of his principal backers, Con was reportedly so angry about the way his Canberra housemate Gavan O'Connor supported Mark Latham that he moved out of their shared flat and into a hotel. There was much fuming about 10 years of friendship meaning nothing. But, it is reported that over coffee at Aussies the two apparently made up and their shared flat was booked again for their return to Canberra when parliament resumed the following year. When Con lost his seat in the 2004 elections he reportedly said:
I'm 57—hardly an old man, I suppose … I got defeated in 1998 and I came back in 2001. But there'll be no comebacks this time. I'm exiting, if you like, very gracefully out of political life.
Con continued to show a strong interest in the Labor Party and turned his attention to his legal practice, his consultancy and his beloved Italian restaurant Alimentari. He had his special chair and table in the restaurant and I was privileged to lunch with him on a number of occasions and to be served with wonderful food and be regaled with sound advice and entertaining anecdotes. I valued Con's advice, which was always from the heart and often pithy, direct and sometimes colourful. As has been indicated, Con was honoured by the Italian and Finnish governments with some of their highest honours. None of these honours or the high offices that Con held ever went to his head as he never forgot his humble beginnings and always had the best interests of ordinary working people at heart.
Con battled cancer for the past three years but was determined to see his 70th birthday. And he did. After a three-week stay in the palliative care ward, Con was able to celebrate his 70th birthday last week with his family, including his younger brother Joe, who turned 67 on the same day. As Senator Wong has said, Con is reported to have said, 'I'm looking to go out with a bang!'
Con was a larger-than-life figure who was very respected in Brisbane society but often depicted by cartoons in The Courier Mail in Sicilian garb with a violin case. But that was always taken with good humour. He was a one-of-a-kind political giant, successful businessman, restaurateur, raconteur and cigar-munching larrikin who revelled in his Sicilian heritage and loved this country. He will be greatly missed by his family and many friends and colleagues across the political divide. My sincere condolences go to his wife, Karen, to his daughter Zina and granddaughter Grace and to his step-sons Nicholas and Daniel. Rest in peace, Con Sciacca.
Con Sciacca: friend, mentor, successful politician, lawyer, businessman, failed punter, failed racehorse owner, failed greyhound owner, restaurateur, raconteur. The three words that always come after Con's name are 'larger than life', and I think just about everyone has used them today. I have never met a Labor person who was better company than Con. If you got that phone call from him or his diary person to say 'Con wants lunch', you cleared your diary, you blocked out the rest of the day, because you knew you were in for a very entertaining day—not always politically correct but with plenty of colour and always good fun.
Con's passing is being acknowledged by all sides of politics and, indeed, people in all walks of life. What I believe is the essential element of his character that has led to this is his generous heart. It really pained Con to say no to anyone. I think that is what made him such a good friend and a good politician but probably what made him a bad punter and racehorse owner. One memory I have of Con was meeting him for lunch after he had lost Bonner in 2004. He had a lot more time on his hands for entertaining and he was happy to take a young political activist, particularly one from the Right of the party, under his wing. His regular haunt in those days was Il Centro, and anyone who knows anything about Brisbane restaurants knows that that is the place where Con used to go. Later in the afternoon, Con, in a panic, said: 'What's the time? I've got a dog racing in 10 minutes. Where's the nearest TAB?' Being, at the time, a young person who used to frequent some of the establishments around the town, I quickly led him to the Victory Hotel. Thinking, 'Oh well, Con's putting some money on this dog; I'd better put some money on too,' I got out 10 bucks. Con got out his role of hundreds and started peeling them off to put money on the dog. The dog was called 'Bonner Blitz'. This was after Con had lost, so it was bringing up some bad memories for him, and he told the story of the dog: 'Well, the person who trains the dog, they rang. I can't say no to them, so I bought the share.' So we put our money on this dog. Con put a few hundred on. I put my 10 bucks on. The dog ran stone motherless last!
But that day was not a complete failure, because what also happened, which not many people know, is that Con ran into a lady called Karen, whom he subsequently went on to marry and who has been caring for him in recent months. So, whilst the dog was a failure, the visit to the Victory was not. Con was not the first person to find love at the Victory, but normally they are 18- or 19-year-olds. I think for someone Con's age it was a bit of a rarity.
A few people have mentioned that Con had a number of attempts at entering parliament, but probably the one for which he is most famous in Queensland Labor history was his effort to win the state seat of Redlands, which was within the federal seat of Bowman, which he later won. In a mighty preselection challenge he saw off the then state secretary, Peter Beattie, who was desperate to get into parliament. There were accusations of branch stacking and whatever else—none of which went on in the Queensland Labor Party at the time!—but Con managed to win that preselection and go on to contest the seat. Unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your view—he lost the seat at the 1986 election. There was a time when Peter Beattie was complaining heavily that Con had moved a motion at the admin to have him gagged as state secretary—and, having been in that job, I know how hard it would be to do if you were gagged. Such was the bitter rivalry at the time that exemplified the wounds that stemmed from intervention. But, in true Con style, he and Peter Beattie became great mates and remained great mates until Con's sad passing.
As was often the case, Con dusted himself off, got back up and contested another preselection the following year, where he defeated Len Keogh, who was the sitting Labor member for Bowman and well regarded. I have spoken to Peter Shooter—who Senator Moore, who is in the chamber, knows—who was involved in that preselection. To win, Con needed cross-factional support, and the Left rallied behind him. He won the preselection. That was controversial at the time, because Con was, as many people know, a conservative member of the Labor Party, but the Left of the party saw great merit in his advocacy. Obviously, the Labor Party in Queensland was quite Anglo at the time, so having a multicultural voice was very important for us. I spoke to Peter Shooter before I came in today, and he said that not once did he regret that decision for the Left about Con, because he did make such a great contribution.
But, as we know, when you get elected to caucus, there are some people who have long memories and are very loyal to previous members. Con turned up at the now Old Parliament House, very keen, and he quickly got shafted into the worst office there, which he claimed was basically a broom cupboard. And he used to smoke like a brown log. He had a junior staffer at the time called Mike Kaiser, who almost died of smoke inhalation in that small office! I remember other stories from Mike about working for Con at that time. I think Con had a unit out at Queanbeyan, and he was known for having a fantastic video collection that I think he might have picked up from Fyshwick that was very popular with some of the young Labor members at the time! Con was always very colourful in terms of his behaviour.
He very quickly became influential in caucus affairs. No-one was ever uncertain about who he supported in leadership ballots in particular. He was a very strong supporter of Prime Minister Hawke and then subsequently Kim Beazley. As Senator Ketter alluded to, Con was always someone who wore that on his sleeve. I think it is important to note, though, that despite this, it was actually Prime Minister Paul Keating who promoted him to the ministry. A number of people here have spoken about his work with Australia Remembers as the veterans' affairs minister. He still is recognised in RSL clubs and the veterans community across Australia for his work during that time.
As I mentioned, I got to know Con more after he lost the seat of Bowman, when he had more time for hosting his legendary lunches, which were first at Il Centro and then later at his own restaurant, Alimentari. In my first speech I mentioned how I was named after Anthony Porter. Con's original business partner in Alimentari was David Porter—I was named after his brother. David reports two things about being in a restaurant with Con. Firstly, it was one of the greatest adventures of his life. Secondly, it was one of the poorest financial decisions he ever made, because Con was the best customer at his own restaurant. But it was always great to see Con there, in his element. He thought it was a little part of Italy that he had brought with him from his childhood and it was something that he was very proud of—as well as the role his family played in that restaurant.
I will finish on this. Con was also a very sentimental person, and he was certainly impacted by the passing of his son, Sam, in 1992. I recall that in 2014, which would have been one of the last times I had lunch with him—actually, I was meeting him for a coffee, but he asked me to stay a little bit longer because he had Ted O'Brien coming in, and Ted had just been elected too, as the member for Fairfax in the other house. The reason Ted O'Brien was coming to have lunch with Con that day was that, in Sam's year at Nudgee college, Ted O'Brien was the school captain, and once a year, on the anniversary of Sam's passing, Con had dinner with Ted O'Brien and a number of the other boys who were in that class. I think that shows where Con's heart lay, and how much Sam meant to him. I know that in this place we all have different beliefs, some are religious, some are not, but I hope we can all have an image of Con with his arm around Sam, catching up on the last 25 years.
Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.