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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21295


Ms MACKLIN (2:22 PM) —In 1970, Jim Cairns addressed 100,000 anti-Vietnam War protesters. He said:

Our spirit is the spirit of peace and understanding. Our spirit is opposed to violence, opposed to hate, opposed to every motive that has produced this terrible war. And in developing our own spirit, we will change the spirit of other people.

And their spirit did change because of this passionate man. We mourn the death of Jim Cairns—unquestionably one of the most passionate people to have served in this House.

Jim was, of course, one of the most significant Labor politicians. He had a profound influence on the Labor Party. He courageously led Labor and Australia against the Vietnam War and, in government, for the withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. He opposed the Vietnam War early, continuously and unequivocally. We should not underestimate the courage it took to stand up against a war which the most powerful nation in the world was prosecuting and which, at that time, was supported by the majority of the Australian people.

Just before question time today, my father told me that it was Jim Cairns who had changed his view on the Vietnam War. My father said:

Until Cairns, so many Australians thought that the government would always tell the truth about something as significant as going to war, that the government knows best. Jim Cairns showed the Australian people that this was not the case.

It was this movement of Australian people, led by Jim Cairns, that saw conscription abolished and the early withdrawal of troops from Vietnam. None of us should forget the very many lives—not just young Australians but the many people in Vietnam as well—that were saved because of the withdrawal of troops from that country.

Australians were attracted to Jim's strong conviction and willingness to speak out unequivocally on controversial issues. He has been described as the conscience of, certainly, the Labor Party and even, at times, of our nation. He became an icon in the 1960s, a radical voice during a time of enormous cultural turmoil. In his biography of Cairns, Paul Ormonde summarised this well:

Cairns reached his political heights pursuing ideas that most people felt belonged outside of politics. He talked of peace, cooperation, love, unselfishness and liberation in a nation which was wallowing in the greatest materialistic boom in its history.

Jim Cairns exhibited enormous courage, humility, integrity and compassion. These are the qualities which are most often associated with Jim by those who knew him best. Jim Cairns tested and challenged the social norm. He inspired people. As he, himself, declared:

I push for the things that are not yet popular.

And he certainly did not soften his radicalism when in government. As a new minister in the Whitlam government, Jim Cairns publicly condemned US President Richard Nixon for the Christmas bombing of Hanoi.

While he is best known for his strong stand against the Vietnam War, Jim Cairns pushed the social boundaries in other areas as well. As a University of Melbourne academic, he encouraged friendships between local and Asian students. He opposed the White Australia Policy when it was still popular within the Labor Party and was one of the first Australian politicians to call for an independent foreign policy stance by Australia towards our Asian neighbours. Of course, the Labor Party has never been short on passion. We are committed, because we want to make the world a fairer and better place.

Jim Cairns never stopped trying to make the world a better place. He stirred our hearts and he challenged our minds. I think it is fitting that Jim's last public appearance was in the Melbourne peace march in February this year. Once again, he joined thousands of peace marchers, this time against the war in Iraq. Reflecting on the Melbourne peace march, Jim praised those who marched alongside him that day. He said:

... I have never seen more happiness amongst a group of people and have never been happier with people taking responsibility for their society.

In the parliament and on the streets, he was—and will always be remembered as—an activist of great compassion.