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Thursday, 12 March 2009
Page: 2598


Mr SNOWDON (Minister for Defence Science and Personnel) (12:11 PM) —Given the nature of this debate on the Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2008-2009 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2008-2009 it is my intention, in the first part of what I have to say, to refer to the memory of two good friends of mine who have passed away recently. Both of these people were great fighters for social justice in the Territory and both died from that dreadful disease, cancer.

The first of these friends was Tony Fitzgerald—someone who was known to my friend the member for Banks—who was the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in the Northern Territory. The second person was Ms Ursula Balfour, a school teacher. She was a highly respected and prominent figure in Northern Territory education circles. Recently both of these people lost their lives after long battles with cancer. I was fortunate enough to have attended commemorative services for both of them—in Darwin for my good friend Tony Fitzgerald and in Alice Springs for Ursula Balfour.

Tony arrived in the Northern Territory in May 1977 as a lawyer. He graduated from the University of Melbourne in commerce and law and his first job as a legal practitioner was with the Fitzroy Legal Service, which again will be known to my mate the member for Banks. Under the auspices of the Fitzroy Legal Service he was an advocate for the Tenants Union of Victoria. He left Victoria in May and arrived in the Northern Territory to work for Aboriginal legal aid at a time when there were some very impressive people there. His confreres at the time included Dave Parsons, who is now a judge of the Victorian courts, and a former Victorian appeal court judge, Jeff Eames, both of whom were solicitors at the Northern Australian Legal Aid Service, NALAS, as it was at that time.

In October of that year, Tony was joined by his best mate, Greg Borchers. Greg was also a lawyer. Over his life, Tony was not known for punctuality. He was due to, as you do, pick up his mate at the airport and look after him. Unfortunately, on that October day, when Greg arrived in Darwin to take up his new position at the North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, Tony was nowhere to be seen. They later came together and they have had a long and fruitful relationship ever since.

Tony worked for the North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, and I knew him not only because I had a lot of mates in the legal circles in Darwin at the time but also through rugby union. Tony was a very, very good rugby player and had played state level rugby at junior and senior levels in Victoria. Tony then had a varied career, not only playing rugby, at which he excelled, but also in legal circles, though for a time he left the Northern Territory and took up practising in Melbourne with Greg Borchers on Punt Road. That did not last that long and they were soon back in the Territory. He was at the bar for a while, worked for the Wagait association, went back to the law and then was offered the position of Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in the Northern Territory.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Tony had a partner, Ursula Raymond, with whom he lived and they had two children, Nina and Gus. Unfortunately, their relationship did not last, and Tony was left as a single parent with two young children. I think at the time that Nina would have been about three and Gus about five or six. Gus, as it happens, is around the same age as my eldest son. It was about this time that Tony was diagnosed with cancer and had an operation. Around the same time that he first received the diagnosis and had this operation, he said to my partner, Elizabeth, ‘All I want is 10 years’—10 years so he could see his children grow up. As it happens, he had this terrible disease for almost 13 years, and he did see his children grow up into fine young people. I know that, in the sacrifice he made for them, his life was driven by them; his reason was to be with his children. Despite the personal affliction and the suffering which saw his body become, by the end, an emaciated representation of his true self, he was a fine man. He had his foibles—more than one. He was a very pugnacious, opinionated and argumentative person, and we had a great friendship. We had many lively discussions about a range of issues.

When Tony thought something was right, there was no question, no brooking any criticism; he was going to be right. Whilst it did not come as a surprise to me that he was appointed Anti-Discrimination Commissioner of the Northern Territory, what became very clear was that Tony was not going to bow to anyone. In that position, he stood up ever so strongly not only to governments at a national level and in the Northern Territory but also to sections in the community who perhaps were not as rounded as they should have been in terms of appreciating such things as racism and minority rights. He was a great advocate. He will be missed by all those who knew him. He made a significant contribution to the life of the Northern Territory. He is survived by Gus and Nina, and they are now living with their lovely mother, Ursula, in Darwin.

The second person I want to refer to is Ursula Balfour. Ursula was a long-time resident of the Northern Territory. She arrived in Alice Springs in the late seventies and on 6 March, last week, was farewelled at the Alice Springs Telegraph Station after she passed away at noon on 1 March after losing her battle with cancer. There were around 600 people at her memorial service—friends and relatives from Alice Springs and across the nation who came to honour the memory of a very distinguished woman. She was a very brave woman, a distinguished teacher and an advocate for Central Australian education. I knew Ursula because she worked as the deputy principal in the school which my children attended and at which my partner worked.

Ursula was a very professional person, extremely highly valued as a teacher, having worked as I say as an assistant principal at the School of the Air and principal of both Bradshaw and Ross Park primary schools in Alice Springs. She was a very active member of the Northern Territory teachers union and was also in the principals association. Over recent years she undertook a great challenge. At Bradshaw Primary School, where she was principal, she set up a unit to address the needs of town camp kids around Alice Springs. She was extremely successful in this endeavour, and great tributes were paid to her as a result of that fine work. I know that she has impacted upon the lives of so many: all the students she has had contact with and their families. She is survived by her loving husband, Scotty, and two beautiful children, Sally and Jamie. I know that, whilst it is difficult when we are talking about people whom most of us in this place do not know, when I talk about Tony and Ursula I can say without fear of contradiction that were Tony and Ursula known to everyone else in this parliament they would come away with the same impression I arrived at after many years of association with them. They were fine individuals who will be sadly missed. I guess it points out in a way that, no matter how fine you are, how courageous you are or how brilliant you are, you can be susceptible to the dreadful attack of cancer. Given that last week we had the Shade for Cancer exercise, I encourage people when they are thinking about what they might do with their excess dollars, to think about contributing to cancer research.

I want to conclude my remarks here by talking about the legislation. I refer the chamber to the enormous benefit for the Northern Territory of the federal government’s $800 million community infrastructure program. More than $3 million has been invested in the Territory. In mid-December town and shire councils the length and breadth of the Territory received letters advising them of their allocation through the new Regional and Local Community Infrastructure Program. In these three short months not only have projects been announced from the Tiwi islands to Tennant Creek, covering everything from rubbish tip upgrades to cultural tourism signage, but already contracts have been sent to councils, signed and sent back and funds have been released. So in three short months we have gone from nothing—no investment in these projects, no improvements in the lives of our remote Territory communities and no construction to keep our regional economies ticking over in these difficult times—to having these funds flowing in.

Wagait, on the Cox Peninsula, has received $100,000 for a bicycle path. It is much more than a bicycle path—the bike path means people can catch the ferry from Darwin over to Wagait and go for a ride. They can stay longer and look around. This generates tourism. This is a very important part of the community and economic infrastructure for the region. Katherine Town Council has signed a contract which means that work can get under way on a large, centrally located children’s playground. MacDonnell Shire Council has signed a contract that gives $250,000 for cultural tourism signage around Alice Springs.

I am so amazed by the way the opposition opposed these funding measures. I am amazed for a number of reasons. Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, you will be aware, as I have said many times in this place, that my electorate of Lingiari covers 1.34 million square kilometres—it is somewhat bigger than your tiny patch. I have a very diverse community with hundreds of small Aboriginal communities. We know about addressing the needs of Aboriginal communities, and closing the gap is very much at the centre of what the government is about. An essential ingredient of that is investment in education. The government has previously announced funding for 200 extra teachers to work in the Northern Territory in these bush schools. I know personally that these schools are very undercapitalised and have lacked significant resources. To see the contribution which this government is now making to those schools and the school environments and to understand that that has been opposed by the opposition leaves me wondering: what is it that will attract the interest of the opposition to support the rights of people who need an education? Of course those interests in education extend far beyond those bush communities—to every primary school in the Northern Territory and a number of high schools which will benefit.

So how is it that the opposition can turn their noses up and oppose funding of over $14 billion for education in the stimulus package? What does it say about them? Are they saying that this is not essential infrastructure? I beg your pardon. Anyone who knows anything about the bush—as I know you do, Mr Deputy Speaker—would know of the absolute importance of having infrastructure investment of the type which has been made by the government both in the regional programs and in the infrastructure programs generally; and most importantly in education. If we are to improve the lot of Indigenous Australians so that they are healthy and have work then what we are required to do is to invest in their educational opportunities.

Debate (on motion by Mr Melham) adjourned.