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Tuesday, 23 May 2006
Page: 2

Mr BEAZLEY (Leader of the Opposition) (2:06 PM) —With your indulgence, Mr Speaker: I am pleased to join the Acting Prime Minister in this reflection on a great life, and a life well led. It is a tribute to the memory of Rick Farley that we are doing this at all. It is a most unusual thing for a person who has not been a member of parliament to be reflected on in this chamber. The fact that we are doing this is testament enough to his contribution to national life.

Rick Farley was a man who worked to break down barriers, succeeding in drawing together the shared aspirations of cattlemen, farmers, conservationists and Indigenous Australians. During his life he had a profound influence on what were otherwise sensitive and divisive issues. As Director of the National Farmers Federation, he led the farmers into an inspirational partnership with the conservation movement, creating the National Landcare movement, which has changed attitudes forever in regard to farming practices and conservation matters. In 1991 he became a member of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Along with the environment, that was to be the great driving issue in his life. His role was critical in negotiations with the Keating government over the passage of the native title bill

I remember the roles he played during his discussions on many issues with the Hawke and Keating governments. It was always a matter of, in the first instance, surprise and then great gratification that it was possible for the government, through Rick Farley, to have a dialogue with many diverse interest groups who are not naturally in dialogue with the Labor Party, the labour movement and a Labor government. He was an important source of transmission of ideas from the national parliament and the national government through to a very important sector of our society. The role he played in reconciliation when he took this same approach in matters related to Aboriginal affairs was an equivalent.

In the days since his death, many people have spoken with very great feeling about his contribution and the ability I mentioned to reach out to people everywhere—farmers, conservationists, Indigenous Australians. He has been described by Aboriginal leader Pat Dodson as ‘a peaceful warrior and patriot who changed Australia, a champion who carried the vision of reconciliation and justice for Indigenous people in his heart and in his hands; he delivered where others postured’. His partner, Linda Burney, said this of him:

His legacy is immense, and one of justice and decency. He was full of foresight, principle and practical good sense, and this shone through constantly ... His life mattered, he made a difference.

Today we remember the difference that Rick Farley made. We mourn his early passing. Our thoughts are with Linda and his children, Jeremy and Cailin.

I would like to conclude with some words spoken by Rick Farley in his Australia Day address three years ago. They reflect his passion for his country and his irrepressible optimism for its future:

Our nation has come a long way in a very short time and we have much to be proud of. We have made mistakes along the track, but we can try to correct them. We live in a unique place and we know enough to look after it better. We have the priceless gift of the oldest living culture in the world. Caring properly for our country and resolving unfinished business with our first peoples can unify our communities and create greater national certainty and confidence. 

I would like to think that we will make a devoted effort in this parliament to live up to those remarks and the spirit that exists behind them. Indeed, as Rick Farley said, it is a privilege to inhabit this continent with the oldest living culture on earth. It is a relationship that we should treat as precious, in the same way that he treated it as precious.

A number of members of my frontbench and backbench attended his funeral, because in later years he became well known to members of the party in Sydney and I think he was a member of the party in the Grayndler electorate. But his political interests were far broader than simply us; that was merely his final resting place. He went through the spectrum of the political process as he sought constantly in his life to pattern out that sense of reconciliation that went with his profound patriotism. We can pay Rick Farley no better tribute than to take those words of his very seriously indeed as we contemplate the affairs of this nation for the remainder of this parliament.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!