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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13138

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:01): I move:

That the House express its deep regret at the death on 19 November 2012, of the Honourable Joseph Martin (Joe) Riordan AO, a former Minister and Member of this House for the Division of Phillip from 1972 to 1975, place on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious service, and tender its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

A decade ago, Alan Ramsey spoke of the Whitlam cabinet as 'a dwindling brotherhood'. Over the years, we have farewelled so many—Lionel Murphy, Fred Daly, Jim Cairns, Kim Beazley Sr and Reg Bishop to name a few. In the term of this parliament, it has been our sad duty to say goodbye to Ken Wriedt and Lionel Bowen. Now, with Joe Riordan's passing, the brotherhood grows even smaller. I ask the whole House to join me in honouring one of our own.

It is part of Australian political folklore to designate bellwether seats, those electorates whose capture or loss signal a change of government and a shift in the nation's sentiment. The electorate of Phillip, now abolished, in Sydney's eastern suburbs was one of those seats. In 1972, a 42-year-old unionist called Joe Riordan wrested the seat from Bill Aston, the Liberal Speaker of the House. The Whitlam government had arrived.

Joe Riordan was a member of this House for just three years, his brief ministerial career terminated by the action of his friend John Kerr and his parliamentary career terminated by the disillusioned voters of Phillip six weeks later. Many years later, in 1995, Joe told a conference on the dismissal about that Remembrance Day afternoon:

I went into the House of Representatives. Frank Crean was there speaking. I thought I'd go in and just sit behind him. I took a bundle of letters waiting to be signed and I was signing the letters listening to Frank making his speech to the Parliament. And there was a thump on the seat beside me and 'Himself' appears and he said, "Don't sign any more letters. You're no longer a minister".

All those hopes gone at the stroke of a vice-regal pen.

But those three years of service had a purpose as well as spectacular highs and lows. Joe Riordan once said of the Whitlam government that 'it dared to challenge.' It dared to challenge complacency and injustice. It dared to imagine a more vibrant and open Australia beyond the insularity of the Menzies era. Joe Riordan was one of those who paid a high price for the Whitlam government's daring.

Joe came to elected public office after a remarkable two-decade contribution to the Labor movement and he was to make an equally outstanding contribution to the cause of industrial fairness in the three years after he left politics. Joe's place in the union movement began with the Federated Clerks' Union. He was elected assistant secretary of the New South Wales branch at just 22 and headed that union federally from 1958 until his election to parliament in 1972. They were bitter, contentious years in our national life. As a loyal right-winger, Joe no doubt saw himself on the side of the angels. But he also knew that, in the end, the only way was to stick with the Labor Party—and so he did.

As a loyal unionist and loyal Catholic, Joe had a strong and practical sense of social justice. His view was a simple one and it is shared by everyone on this side of the House: the workforce consists of human persons who are entitled to be treated with dignity and proper respect. Driven by those principles, Joe served in many capacities in the 30 years after his time in politics. Those roles included head of the New South Wales Department of Industrial Relations, Senior Deputy President of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, chairman of WorkSafe Australia, chairman of the WorkCover Authority of New South Wales and chair of the New South Wales Ethical Clothing Trades Council. His constant preoccupation throughout those decades was the rights of working people, especially industrial safety, and the wellbeing of those in the textile, footwear and clothing industry who suffered such exploitation. These workers had a great friend in Joe Riordan—he spoke for them, he delivered change for them, and they are among the many who mourn his death.

On this coming Sunday, we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the election of the Whitlam government. Joe did not quite make it, but he will be in our hearts as we do. He was born amid the privation of the Depression—an Aussie kid from the inner suburbs of Sydney long before they were trendy. He was educated by the Marist Brothers and did not go to university but rose up, union ticket in his pocket, to be a member of parliament, a minister of the Crown and to hold offices of high public trust for half a century. He did all that with the plain-spoken decency, integrity and constancy of purpose that so characterises his era. That is the generation we are farewelling; that is the brotherhood of which Alan Ramsey spoke, and as they go we are diminished.

On behalf of the government I offer our condolences to Joe's widow, Pat, who he cared for so much during her own long illness, to his six children, to his extended family, to his fellow parishioners and to his many friends. Like them we are proud of Joe's long and full life and saddened by his loss. I commend Joe's memory to the House and to the Australian people.