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Monday, 21 June 2004
Page: 30890


Mr LATHAM (Leader of the Opposition) (2:07 PM) —On indulgence, I join with the Prime Minister in honouring the life of Jim Bacon. Today we mourn the passing of a man much loved by both the people who knew him and the people he led. Jim Bacon was a good man, a committed trade unionist and a successful reforming Premier of Tasmania. I will always remember him as a tremendous person, a man with a great sense of humour who was always positive and optimistic, especially during his courageous battle with cancer. He was an incredibly strong and impressive person. I saw him at his home in Hobart in March, and he was talking about his illness as if it was just some passing problem, something that he could handle with a good laugh or the flick of his hand, something that his spirit would front up to. He was not intimidated; he was strong. He was an impressive person under all conditions. I have never seen such optimism and strength under pressure from anyone. He was a very special person indeed.

He was also a great character, an Australian original, down to earth and with a great sense of fun. The night before our ALP national conference in Sydney in January there was a presentation where the different state and territory leaders could say a few light-hearted things about their jurisdictions. I remember saying to Jim after it that he was so fair dinkum funny that he could have been a stand-up comedian. He had a wonderful sense of humour, a wonderful sense of timing. He really was an Australian original, and we enjoyed his company so much over the years.

His life was taken early but he achieved a great deal. He was the privately educated son of a professional family in Melbourne. Jim's passions were captured by the revolutionary spirit of our university campuses in the late sixties and early seventies. He was a Maoist in his philosophy at that time and, as he proudly told me in March, he got to China before Gough. These political interests and his social commitment led him to become an official of one of the nation's most active trade unions, the BLF, and that was during its most active period. Jim Bacon was tough and he was loyal—as he needed to be to represent and fight for the interests and rights of working Australians.

In 1980, he moved to Tasmania, ultimately becoming Secretary of the Trades and Labour Council and then entering the state parliament in 1996. He then found his vocation in life as Premier of Tasmania—the job of his life, as he so often said. He loved every minute of it. And it was through his ideas, his reforms and very often his own personal willpower that he transformed that state. He turned the Tasmanian economy around, boosted its population, created jobs, reversed the brain drain and brought back the ferries. He replaced the defeatism of Tasmania's decline in the 1980s with a new spirit of hope and optimism. It was very much his own personal spirit of hope and optimism.

He also believed very strongly in the unity of the Tasmanian people. I know that Jim often thought long and hard—indeed, agonised—about some of the political divisions in the state between environmentalists and advocates of the forestry industry. He wanted to bring Tasmanians together. In the program called Tasmania Together, a communitarian project, he tried to work through the democratic processes, the issues and the differences and to use the power of reason to bring progress to his people and his state. It was an attempt to turn an island state into a community governed by the principles of public service, social justice and tolerance—and it worked. In very large part, it worked.

Jim Bacon was a great Tasmanian and a great leader of his state. He was loved and respected and now, of course, he is missed by so many. On behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I pay tribute to Jim Bacon and convey my sympathy and condolences to his wife Honey, his sons Mark and Scott, his stepson Shane, his mother Joan and his sisters Jenny, Mary and Wendy. We are much weaker as a movement and much weaker as a nation for his passing.