Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 May 2021


Peacock, Hon. Andrew Sharp, AC

3:36 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

It is with deep regret that I inform the Senate of the death, on 16 April 2021, of the Hon. Andrew Sharp Peacock AC, a former minister and member of the House of Representatives for the division of Kooyong in Victoria, from 1966 to 1994. I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate.

3:37 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move:

That the Senate expresses its sadness at the death, on 16 April 2021, of the Honourable Andrew Sharp Peacock AC, former Leader of the Liberal Party and Minister for Foreign Affairs and former Member for Kooyong, places on record its admiration and appreciation for his service to the Parliament and the nation, and tenders its deep sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

The Hon. Andrew Sharp Peacock, 'the colt from Kooyong', was a great Australian and a loyal icon and servant of the Liberal Party. A larger-than-life man with the charisma to match, he served his nation devotedly across a lifetime of public service. Born in Melbourne on 13 February 1939, Andrew studied at Scotch College before going on to study law at Melbourne university. He got his start in politics early, joining the Liberal Party as a teenager. In 1965, at the age of 26, Andrew became the youngest ever president of the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party of Australia. Just a year later he was elected to parliament, in the 1966 by-election caused by the resignation of the Rt Hon. Sir Robert Menzies in the seat of Kooyong. The constituency of Kooyong would return Andrew to the seat at a 12 further elections. All up, Andrew served 28 years, five months and 15 days as the member for Kooyong. About 10 of those years were spent serving as a government minister.

Despite his young age upon being elected to parliament, Andrew's rapid ascendancy continued swiftly. After Andrew had been just a few years in the parliament, then-Prime Minister Gorton appointed him to his cabinet, in 1969, as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister and the Minister for the Army, during the Vietnam War. Andrew was aged just 30 years old at the time. He also held responsibility for a variety of portfolios, serving as Minister for External Territories, Cabinet Minister, Minister for Environment, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Minister for Industry and Commerce, under Prime Ministers Gorton, McMahon and Fraser.

As Minister for Foreign Affairs, he discharged the role with distinction and won the respect of Australia's close allies, especially in the immediate region. Andrew leveraged his strong and sincere relationship with the people of Papua New Guinea to help oversee its transition to full self-government and independence. His role in Papua New Guinea's independence cannot, and should not, be overstated. The Papua New Guinean government later made him an honorary Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu, their highest honour.

Following the defeat of the Fraser government in 1983, Andrew took the reins of the Liberal Party as its leader and as Leader of the Opposition. When then Prime Minister Hawke called an early election in 1984, Andrew Peacock was a clear underdog. However, he was widely credited with outcampaigning Hawke during a long campaign and, certainly, with reducing the margin of the Hawke government at the time. In his second stint as leader, Andrew led a strong campaign in the 1990 election, narrowly achieving a majority of the vote, but was narrowly defeated overall. At a speech on the occasion of Andrew's 80th birthday in 2019, he reflected on those battles, the Liberal leadership and, particularly, the contest for the prime ministership. He said:

Unlike most of my colleagues I did not hunger for the job as prime minister. I truly was more interested in what we were doing than the post itself. I wanted good posts. I wanted to be the foreign minister, but being prime minister was not the central orient; it wasn't the central purpose to what I was doing.

I mean it was still important and disappointing to lose … I don't want to put it down, but I wasn't sitting there like some do plotting to be prime minister. It wasn't in my nature.

My friend, former minister and former senator for South Australia, Amanda Vanstone tells me, in reflecting on Andrew Peacock, that he rose above the slings, arrows and disappointments of politics. She said that he did not let bitterness infest him. It is an important lesson and legacy that Andrew leaves for all of us who pass through this place. Indeed, Andrew continued to approach politics and public life with dignity and an unmistakable toughness, matched by his sense of humour and typically affable manner. Amanda also told me of a classic story of how one night, by then in the new parliament, Andrew sat watching other people. She recounts:

He said if someone pushed the cork into an empty bottle he was sure he could remove it without breaking the bottle.

Like a fly fisherman teasing the water he drew them in. 20 bucks per person was the bet.

Amanda credits herself as being lucky not to get sucked in. Others were not so lucky. She said that he scooped the pool and collected his cash after managing to extract the cork—one of many party tricks—and much amusement formed around the room. She hasn't yet explained to me exactly how the trick is achieved.

In similarly fond reflections of Andrew Peacock as someone able to impart a good sense of humour, sometimes even at his own expense, former Leader of the Government in the Senate Robert Hill recounts a memory that he had of Andrew. He said:

He was always fun. I remember at a meeting in Athens someone was giving a boring speech. Peacock looked at me, pulled out a set of keys and dropped them on the table.

He then looked at me and said, 'Shirley's', with a mischievous smile.

Robert, though, went on to say that, beyond the charm and style, Andrew Peacock had a substance—focused on sensible, practical public policy outcomes, directed to benefit those who most needed the support of government. Robert said, 'It's why I thought he would make a good prime minister.'

As those personal stories from those who knew Andrew will reveal, he was authentic and humorous but he had his heart in the right place and a head for good policy. He will be remembered fondly by those on both sides of the political aisle as a man who approached politics with dignity and toughness.

After his formal political career ended in 1994, Andrew continued his public service as a distinguished and successful Australian ambassador to the United States. As former Prime Minister John Howard said of his appointment of his former political rival as ambassador:

I welcomed the opportunity of appointing him as Australia's ambassador to the United States in 1996. He discharged that role with much distinction. His knowledge of American politics enabled him to provide special insights regarding our most important ally. Australia lost a man who brought flair and style as well as high intelligence to his years in public life.

I know that the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne, would wish to be here if she could to speak of her dear friend, her former employer and one of her mentors, in Andrew Peacock. It's notable that she is out walking in the steps of Andrew as our foreign minister today, representing our nation overseas, and I know that Marise looks forward, and will value the opportunity, to reflecting on Andrew more formally on another occasion.

Andrew Peacock was a great man—a great Australian who gave much to our nation, and a great liberal. On behalf of the Australian government and the Senate, I extend our sincerest condolences to Andrew's wife, Penne, and his three daughters, Ann, Caroline and Jane, and the thanks of a grateful nation for the service that he gave.

3:45 pm

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

I rise on behalf of the Opposition to express our condolences following the passing of the Hon. Andrew Sharp Peacock AC, and I convey, at the outset, our sympathy to his family and friends and particularly acknowledge my counterpart, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, who I know has had a long association with him since her earliest days working in politics.

Andrew Peacock combined substance and style, and he advanced liberal causes throughout a three-decade career as a parliamentarian and later as a diplomat. He was present during important moments in our history and in world history, from our engagement in Vietnam and the independence of Papua New Guinea to leading the Liberal Party to two elections and, of course, as Australia's Ambassador to the United States. That he never became prime minister is, for some, a great shame, but he accomplished a great deal in his career, both inside and outside the parliament, and, on our side, he will always have respect for the stature he gave classical liberal values and for the force with which he advocated them internally and publicly. He put liberalism at the centre of the Liberal Party, even when that meant having difficult battles with those leading the growing movement toward hardline conservativism. I hope that reflections on his passing inspire those of more classically liberal persuasions to find their voice and renew his legacy.

Andrew Peacock's early life quickly turned to politics. He went to the University of Melbourne, where he completed a Bachelor of Laws degree, but, of course, the pull was always towards a different vocation. His political interests saw him unsuccessfully contest a House seat in 1961, and he became the youngest ever president of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party in 1965.

Just a year later, still well before he was 30 years of age, he succeeded in obtaining a seat in parliament following the retirement of Robert Menzies, and so the parliamentary career of the 'Colt from Kooyong' was born, and the colt, indeed, bolted from the gate. He would attain ministerial office before the decade was out, serving as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister and Minister for the Army under Prime Minister Gorton and then under Billy McMahon, who added Minister Assisting the Treasurer.

There were obviously undoubted challenges serving as army minister as the Vietnam War grew in unpopularity. These were probably compounded by serving alongside Malcolm Fraser as defence minister, with debate between them a portent of how the relationship between the two would continue to play out.

In 1972, Prime Minister McMahon made Mr Peacock minister for territories, which included Papua New Guinea, and for his efforts in supporting Papua New Guinea he would later be appointed a Grand Companion of the Order of Logohu.

When Mr Fraser became Prime Minister in 1975, he appointed Andrew Peacock as his Minister for Foreign Affairs, and, as my colleague Senator Birmingham has said, it is probably for this position that he is perhaps best remembered. His capacity to move in international circles with a great deal of ease, building alliances and friendships, served him and our nation well. He was a trusted voice for the nation on the world stage. He understood that among the roles of the foreign minister is to explain both the world to Australia and Australia to the world. His liberal values guided his approach, and he sought results based on these principles.

In his role in supporting a newly independent Papua New Guinea, he continued a strong friendship with Sir Michael Somare, whose passing we also recently marked in this place. Other key foreign policy challenges he confronted in our region included the developing relationship with China, the fallout from the war in Vietnam, the Indonesian incorporation of East Timor and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

On Cambodia, Australia's recognition of Pol Pot's regime in what was then known as so-called Democratic Kampuchea was a source of division within the Fraser government and of particular disagreement between Mr Fraser and his foreign minister. Mr Peacock was strongly opposed to recognition, a matter he argued in cabinet and in the House of Representatives, as well as with the Prime Minister directly. His arguments with Fraser became especially heated when evidence came to light of the torture and death of two Australians, David Scott and Ron Dean, at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Mr Peacock's principled stand against a regime that committed atrocities on an abominable scale was a statement not only about the monstrous nature of the violations taking place, something he had warned about previously but also about the fundamental duties of a national government towards its people. He stated, 'Our primary duty was to our own bloody citizen,' words still relevant today.

Mr Peacock found himself on the outer following his public disagreement with Mr Fraser, and his opposition to recognition of Pol Pot's regime was a matter he highlighted when changing from foreign affairs to the industrial relations portfolio following the 1980 election and when he later resigned from the ministry in 1981. He unsuccessfully challenged for the leadership but would return to cabinet in 1982 for a brief period as Minister for Industry and Commerce.

The election of the Hawke Labor government in 1983 and the return of Labor governments at the next four federal polls in an unbroken period of government that would last until 1996 saw Andrew Peacock spend the remainder of his parliamentary career in opposition. It also paved the way for the battle between two adversaries in the same party: Mr Peacock and John Howard. This tussle between wet and dry, between two individuals committed to different visions for the Liberal Party and for the nation became a defining alternative political narrative for nearly a decade and involved a constant tug of war over who was leader. Mr Peacock led the Liberals to losses in 1984 and 1990. During the latter campaign, his capacity to be Prime Minister came under significant attack, but it is worth noting that during that election the coalition received, to his credit, more than 50 per cent of the vote, and he accepted that result with the spirit in which our democracy should be conducted.

Andrew Peacock resigned from parliament in September 1994, and he was appointed to serve as Australia's ambassador to the United States. He found himself as our representative to one of our key allies as the Clinton administration grappled with changing dynamics in geopolitics following the end of the Cold War, including the 1998 Kosovo War. In 1997, he was recognised for service to the parliament, to politics and for the formulation and implementation of defence and foreign policy when he was appointed as a Companion of the Order of Australia.

Andrew Peacock had a precocious political life and a prodigious career. He was widely commended for his performance in key posts, including minister and ambassador. Whilst the ultimate political expectation many held for him of the prime ministership was not fulfilled, he nonetheless had a distinguished period of service to our nation. But he described his greatest defeat as the loss in the 1974 Melbourne Cup by a horse he part owned, saying:

She came second and she was favourite, but she got caught in the shadows of the post. That was a shattering blow.

Unfortunately, this might have been something of an analogy for his own career—although it says something that he thought that was his greatest defeat.

John Howard reflected following his passing, 'Australia lost a man who brought flare and style as well as high intelligence to his years in public office.' Andrew Peacock set new standards in Australian politics. I close by again expressing, on behalf of the Labor Party, our condolences and deepest sympathy following his passing to his family, friends and party.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places.