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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 2043

Mr McCLELLAND (Barton) (11:50): I thank the member for Riverina for his courtesy and allowing me to speak at this point. Bill Morrison AO was a most distinguished member of this House. He was proud to be the member for St George which in his days covered the regional area, in his days, of Hurstville, Bexley, Rockdale and Arncliffe, and, indeed, most of those suburbs have since been moved into my constituency of Barton, which I have represented since 1996. I can say that many people that I have met and certainly many people obviously associated with the Labor Party remember Bill from those halcyon days of the 1970s and the 1980s. Bill served St George diligently and conscientiously from 1969 until 1975 and again, after losing in 1975, from 1980 to 1984, when he retired from active service in politics. He then became Australia's ambassador to Indonesia from 1985 to 1989 and again he was highly regarded for his work on our nation's behalf in those days essentially working to establish a relationship that has become so important to us. At one time, Bill was also a councillor on Rockdale Municipal Council.

Many excellent remarks have already been made about his parliamentary and diplomatic service, and I will not take up unnecessary time recounting those stories other than to mention of course that at all times he had the loyal support of his wife Marty who was and is still an impressive and forthright woman in her own right. What I first want to say is that, from the time Bill stepped into the seat of St George, he and my father became great mates. Indeed, my father played a prominent in 1969 in helping to secure preselection for Bill for the seat of St George, and for the sake of posterity I might record how that occurred. My father, who with Bill subsequently became ministers in the Whitlam government, tells a story of how one evening in the Old Parliament House Gough Whitlam called him in and effectively instructed my father that he wanted Bill as the Labor candidate for St George. Gough appropriately insisted that there must be a preselection, and his instructions to my father were simple: 'And you will get him elected, comrade.' Even though at that stage Bill was a complete unknown in St George, there was no proviso, no excuse. Bill had to be our candidate; Gough had said so.

At this time, my father had never met Bill—indeed never set eyes on him. Bill was then the Deputy High Commissioner in Malaysia, but Gough knew him and was very impressed by him and thought he would win the seat. Indeed, Gough told my father that Bill was so keen to represent Labor in the federal parliament that we was prepared to run in the seat of Mackellar against Bill Wentworth, but Gough thought he had real prospects of winning St George. If I pause to mention there, it is a credit to Bill's character that he did not expect to be shoehorned into a safe seat, but rather had to work and work very, very hard to win a marginal seat, and I think others could learn by his example. Anyway, Doug got to work and, with help particularly from the late Bill Rigby and the late Jack Heffernan, who was then the Federal Secretary of the Sheet Metal Workers' Union, they literally visited every home of the Labor Party members in St George; and, to cut the story short, Bill did indeed, according to Gough's instructions, become the candidate through that preselection process.

Shortly after securing his selection, Bill, Marty and the family came back to Australia from Malaysia to work in the Department of Foreign Affairs and each weekend Bill would drive from Canberra to Sydney to campaign in St George. Quite often he would spend the Friday and Saturday night at our home in Blakehurst. I was a lad of about 11 years old at the time but in any event there are a few things I can remember from those days. One that sticks out in my memory was my amazement that Bill, when he had breakfast, would plaster his breakfast sausages with marmalade. I gave it a try on one occasion, but I would not recommend it. Nonetheless, that was how he started the day.

I can also recall my father and Bill working in our place one evening on an election brochure, which was a huge aircraft—they had photos around the table—landing in the dark of the night with its full landing gear on and lights beaming. The caption on the brochure was 'Vote Morrison to keep the jets grounded at night'. Bill won the election against Len Bosman by a mere 69 votes after going through five recounts. I am pleased to say that 44 years later there is still a night curfew on Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport.

I can also relate, if I may, another light-hearted story about Bill. Part of the folklore in the St George area was that on the day that the Whitlam government was dismissed in November 1975, Bill had been having lunch with someone and he arrived at the chamber a little late and as he was walking in he walked towards his seat on the front bench ready to sit down. At that stage Labor's most junior of ministerial colleagues, the young Paul Keating, said to him, 'It's no use going in there, Bill, you've been sacked!' Of course, Bill, in complete and utter astonishment, responded, 'Good God, mate, what have I done?' The government itself, of course, had been sacked.

Just to add one more thing about Bill's amazing life and to indicate the texture of men of those days—and fortunately still these days, at least in some cases—I am told by the former President of the Senate, Kerry Sibraa, who is very, very keen on not only rugby league but also the surf, that Bill's photo as a young and successful surf lifesaver at Freshwater still adorns one of the walls of the surf lifesaving club.

When I was first elected as the member for Barton, Bill would often attend meetings of the Arncliffe branch of the Labor Party. He subsequently moved away from the area. But he was certainly, I can say, a man of substance who continued to make a great contribution. He was a man with a great sense of humour and a genuine desire to improve the lot of his fellow Australians and certainly continued to make contributions to that. He was practical in many ways—in all ways, really—but he was a man who was very concerned about the civil liberties, in particular, of fellow Australians.

He took his role in politics very seriously, but not himself. He was a very, very articulate man. In actuality he was extremely well spoken—he had a real diplomat's voice. But he always appreciated the larrikinism that was part of the personality of many representatives of their time. Certainly at that time it was pointed out to me that the Labor Party had some 29 different occupations that were represented in the parliament during the time of the Whitlam government. I think it is sad that we do not have the diversity of cross-section.

Bill Morrison was certainly one of those people who had spent time in the real world and brought that experience to bear, representing his constituents and representing the Labor Party and passionately pursuing what he believed to be in the national interest. Again, there is much that the newer generation of representatives can learn from people such as Bill. I am certainly proud to have had Bill Morrison as one of my mentors. It was a privilege to know him and I give my condolences to Marty. The electors of St George thank Bill and also Marty for the enormous assistance that they provided to them and also the excellent representation they provided on their behalf. In summary, Bill Morrison, congratulations on a job well done.