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Monday, 26 May 1997
Page: 3951


Mr SPEAKER —As the current speaker of the House of Representatives I want to speak briefly in the context of this condolence motion about one of my distinguished predecessors, Sir William John Aston KCMG. Although I did not serve with Bill Aston during his period in the House of Representatives I was privileged to meet him after he left the parliament. From that acquaintance and from speaking with those with whom he worked, as well as having studied his remarks in the House and his rulings from the chair, I feel that I knew him quite well.

Bill Aston was elected Speaker on 21 February 1967, following the retirement of the longest-serving Speaker, Sir John McLeay. He had enormous respect for the institution of parliament and was determined to preserve the dignity and the authority of the chair. It was a time of considerable change and challenge: Gough Whitlam's leadership was revitalising the opposition, the community was greatly divided over our role in Vietnam, and the tragic drowning of Prime Minister Holt led to sudden changes in the prime ministership. They were not easy times for a Speaker—they rarely are—but Bill carried out his responsibilities with strength and dignity, reinforced by a staunch commitment to upholding the role of the chair and the traditions of the House. His determination to apply the proper parliamentary processes and procedures is evident from the Hansard record of his exchanges with prominent members of the House at that time.

There were two particularly difficult incidents during his term as Speaker. On one occasion a group a women protesting against Australia's involvement in the Vietnam war chained themselves to the metal railings in the public gallery and really disrupted proceedings. Speaker Aston suspended the proceedings and ordered the chains to be cut with bolt cutters. After the Serjeant-at-Arms had cut through the chains and removed the protesters from the gallery the Speaker calmly resumed the proceedings. On another occasion, a member, who had been named and suspended, refused to leave the chamber; the sitting was suspended. Eventually the Speaker's authority prevailed. The member apologised and left the chamber. As I said, these were indeed difficult days for the Speaker, but Bill consistently demonstrated his determination to maintain the dignity and authority of the high office he held.

There were many such successes and highlights throughout his distinguished parliamentary career and, as always, some frustrations. A known disappointment was his inability at the time to establish a system of House of Representatives standing committees, which he believed would do much to improve the processes of the House. Such a system came later and his views about the need for and effectiveness of it have been well and truly proven correct.

Bill was a warm, kind and friendly man, respected by his parliamentary colleagues and political opponents alike. He had left an indelible mark on the pages of our Australian parliamentary history, and he will be remembered with deep affection by those with whom he was associated. He will also be remembered by his good friends at the Watsons Bay Hotel where, during his retirement years, he spent many a relaxed hour discussing the relative merits of Tooheys Old beer compared with their new brew. Bill was quite proud of the fact that he travelled to and from the hotels by Mercedes, even if the local bus provided the service.

Among his friends, he always fondly referred to his wife as the duchess, and when asked about the letters after his name he explained them to mean `Kindly call me God'. Bill Aston was a fine man and will be greatly missed. He leaves behind his beloved and devoted wife of 55 years, Lady Betty Aston; their two daughters, Margaret and Anne; son-in-law Edward; and his grandchildren, William, Elizabeth and Catherine. Tragically, his son Raymond, who had a promising political career ahead of him, died suddenly shortly after becoming a minister in the Greiner government. To the members of his immediate and extended family, we offer our deepest sympathy. They should be immensely proud of his achievements and his legacy.

Question resolved in the affirmative, honourable members standing in their places.