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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21348


Ms PLIBERSEK (6:11 PM) —I rise to also offer my condolences to the family and friends of Jim Cairns. He was an only child and Mungo MacCallum described him as a lonely child, raised by his mother and grandparents after his father went to World War I and never returned. The story is that his mother was not a physically affectionate mother. Many of his colleagues at the time believed that part of the extraordinary impact of the relationship that he developed with Junie Morosi was due to the fact that he had felt some distance from his mother and some loneliness as a child growing up and this new relationship was so very different to what he had experienced in terms of what love meant to him as a child.

I think that, if you knew nothing else about Jim Cairns, you would pick up from the condolence motion today that many regarded this relationship with Morosi as perhaps his Shakespearean fatal flaw. It was a weakness in a great man, and he has become remembered for that and for the loan scandal when he should have been remembered for many other things and many other great achievements. Tom Uren wrote:

Although he did many great things for the ALP and for Australia, the real tragedy of Jim Cairns was that he didn't become the driving, creative minister he could have been.

... Jim Cairns was of the same mould as Nelson Mandela, Ho Chi Minh and Xanana Gusmao, who had or have the humility, compassion, courage and commitment our human family need from our leaders.

I think many of his colleagues saw that there was some lost potential in Jim Cairns. Several years ago I helped then Senator Bruce Childs to organise a book reading for Jim Cairns in Sydney. There were two groups of people who turned up: there was an older group, who had such enthusiasm and heartfelt admiration for Cairns, who were so excited by the opportunity of seeing their Whitlam era hero in the flesh and hearing what he had to stay and what he had been thinking about in recent years; and then there were younger people, who had not had first-hand experience of Cairns during his strongest political times from 1960 to 1975, who knew of him as a legend but had not had that same amount of exposure.

Cairns was always gentle and thoughtful. He spoke a lot about love and the freedom of the human spirit, and the message very much hit home with the people who knew him previously. The young people in the room who did not know of his history thought that the battles that we face—the battle against militarism; the battle against excessive consumption—are all new battles. They did not know about his history, the fact that he spent 22 years in the federal parliament, having been elected in 1955. They did not understand that they were hearing from a man who was absolutely ahead of his time. In his first speech he used the masculine pronoun—something that is coming up in literature now—and I am sure that members would understand that he probably meant women as well. He said:

Man is very much the creature of his environment. When he lives in an acquisitive society in which self-interest is raised to the level of a social philosophy as it is in ours, then man will bear very much the marks of conflict and self-interest as he does in our community.

This is the sort of philosophy that people like Clive Hamilton think they have stumbled upon more recently, but Jim Cairns was talking about it as early as 1955. Cairns was followed in his first speech by Mr Malcolm Fraser, who started as the youngest member of this House, and who went on to say that he had just heard `a clever, learned and academic speech from the honourable member for Yarra'.

Another area in which Jim Cairns was well known and ahead of his time was in his opposition to the White Australia Policy and his desire to open trade links with China, as well as his speedy and heartfelt response to the disaster of Cyclone Tracy in Darwin when he was Acting Prime Minister. He described himself 20 years later as `Australia's most famous peacenik'. He is best known not just for the moratorium marches, marches that attracted 100,000 people in Melbourne—the members for Reid and Grayndler and others have talked about the giant Sydney Town Hall meeting—but for the years of hard slog that went in before those numbers were achieved.

Bruce Childs remembers a meeting in 1965 at the Trocadero Ballroom where 1,000 people turned up. He makes the point that it was the work of Jim Cairns and people like him that took those numbers from 1,000 to 100,000. In the 1980s, there were 150,000 people at the nuclear disarmament marches and more recently, in February 2003 in Sydney, there were 300,000 people marching against the Iraq war. These figures are part of an ongoing struggle over many decades to increase participation in the peace movement in Australia. This does not happen without years of hard work, and Jim Cairns was central to that. This participation has not ended now. There is a rally at Prince Alfred Park in my electorate this Sunday from to 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. People will be using humour to highlight the involvement of Australia and the United States in the war in Iraq. It is just the sort of thing that I believe Jim Cairns would have appreciated.

I will end with this quote from Jim Cairns—and many of us will understand that this would have been considered a weakness in our line of work:

I wear my heart too easily on my sleeve.

Jim Cairns may have worn his heart too easily on his sleeve, but I am sure that there are many of us who are very grateful for that.