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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 388


Ms GAMBARO (Brisbane) (10:39): I rise today to also offer my condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Sir Zelman Cowen and particularly to give my support to other members who have spoken, including the member for Kooyong and also the member for Melbourne Ports. Sir Zelman Cowen was Australia's 19th Governor-General, who sadly passed away on 8 December 2011 aged 92. It was the 34th anniversary of his swearing-in as Governor-General in 1977. He served with distinction for 4½ years as Governor-General from 1977 to 1982. He suffered from and battled with Parkinson's disease for the past 15 years of his life and was labelled as Australia's Muhammad Ali for his long and brave battle against it, a battle that my family has also come to know more about since my father has been suffering this terrible illness for the past 12 years. It is a really debilitating disease.

When Sir Zelman Cowen was sworn in to the office of Governor-General, he was regarded as one of the leading constitutional lawyers in the English-speaking world and very much a leader within the Jewish community. High Court Justice Michael Kirby said that Sir Zelman had restored what was much needed—that calm to the office. He said further:

His greatest service to Australia was that he used his incumbency to bring a "touch of healing"—

and the word 'healing' has been mentioned in a number of speeches by my colleagues from the opposition and by members of the government—

to settle the sharp divide—

that had occurred in our nation. Sir Zelman told Australians that he hoped to bring a touch of healing to the country and its people. He declared that he was going to avoid being portrayed as the caricature of a cutter of ribbons and an utterer of platitudes, describing his role as Governor-General as being to interpret the nation to itself. In a speech to the Australian Academy of Science, Sir Zelman Cowen promoted the cause of free scientific inquiry, notably in genetic engineering. He also advocated support for refugee assimilation.

He served in the Royal Australian Navy during World War II, from 1941 to 1945, and his expertise was in naval intelligence. He was based in Darwin during the Japanese attack of 1942. He later served as a sublieutenant on General MacArthur's staff in Brisbane—the headquarters are now located in Queen Street, which is part of the electorate of Brisbane. After the war, from 1947 to 1950, he was a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford, and then went on to become a Rhodes scholar at New College, Oxford, where he completed a Bachelor of Civil Law degree and jointly won the Vinerian Scholarship. He was also a consultant on legal matters to the British military government in Germany. My colleagues have spoken about Sir Zelman's many achievements. He was an outstanding individual.

I remember Sir Zelman with great fondness. In particular, I remember his appointment as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland, in 1970. I saw him utilise his exceptional diplomatic skills to negotiate and calm student protests and, in particular, a number of disturbances that were occurring at the university. The memory of this great Australian will live on across this country in many ways. Victoria University is home to the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, providing training and support to the courts, legal practitioners, judiciary and other professions. In 1981, the Royal Australian Institute of Architects established the Sir Zelman Cowen Award for Public Architecture, recognised as Australia's leading award for public buildings. His reach and his influence went far beyond the area of law. Melbourne Law School awards the Zelman Cowen National Scholarship to incoming juris doctor students. The scholarship is awarded purely on the basis of academic merit and is the law school's most prestigious scholarship.

I join with my many colleagues in mourning the loss of Sir Zelman Cowen, a distinguished Australian with an international reputation, who has indeed made an outstanding contribution to this country. It was indeed my privilege and honour in the House yesterday to be in the presence of his wife, Lady Anna, and one of his children and to hear numerous members who rose at the dispatch box to speak about his incredible life. Today I speak about and acknowledge the wonderful contribution that he made to this country as Governor-General both here and abroad. I mentioned earlier his wonderful skills, particularly in being one of the leading constitutional lawyers that this country has ever seen, and for that he is to be truly commended. It is a rare privilege today to speak and join my colleagues. Again, I offer my condolences to his family. We have indeed lost a truly remarkable and outstanding Australian.