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Monday, 10 October 1994
Page: 1313


Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) —On behalf of opposition senators I join with the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Gareth Evans) in expressing regret at the death of Sir Nigel Bowen and extend condolences to his wife and three daughters and to their families. We are saddened by his death. His was a long and distinguished career. Sir Nigel was an eminent lawyer and an able parliamentarian who was a minister under three Liberal prime ministers: Harold Holt, John Gorton and William McMahon.

  He contested the leadership of the parliamentary Liberal party after the McMahon government lost office in 1972, to lose by only one vote to Billy Snedden. Sir Nigel returned to his first love, the law, a year afterwards. He resigned from parliament to become a judge of appeal at the New South Wales Supreme Court. He subsequently became Chief Judge in Equity and, in 1976, the first Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia, a position which he held with distinction for 14 years until he retired in 1990. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1976 and was awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia in 1988.

  Sir Nigel was born in 1911 and educated at the King's School and Sydney University. He was admitted as a solicitor in 1934 and to the New South Wales bar two years later. He served in the 2nd AIF and reached the rank of captain before he was discharged and returned to the bar. In 1946 he became the editor of the Australian Law Journal, a position he filled for the next 12 years. He became a Queen's Counsel in New South Wales in 1953 and in Victoria in the following year. He was President of the New South Wales Bar Council from 1959 to 1961 and Vice-President of the Law Council of Australia from 1957 to 1960.

  Sir Nigel entered parliament as the member for Parramatta in 1964 after the resignation of another eminent jurist and contemporary, Sir Garfield Barwick. Like Sir Garfield, Sir Nigel embarked on a political career relatively late in his professional life and, like Sir Garfield, held the portfolios of Attorney-General and foreign affairs. In Sir Nigel's first term as Attorney-General he initiated the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council. He was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs by Harold Holt 2 1/2 years after entering parliament and filled that position for several years.

  Prime Minister Gorton appointed him Minister for Education and Science, a portfolio he held from late 1969 to early in 1971 when he was again appointed Attorney-General by Prime Minister McMahon. He held the portfolio for only five months before being appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs. As foreign affairs minister, Sir Nigel identified and articulated the emerging importance of Australia's relationship with Asia. In June of 1972 Sir Nigel was quoted as saying:

We are geographically very close to Asia and our future is very largely with the future of the countries in this region.

Sir Nigel played a leading role in galvanising international opinion in the Pacific basin against the atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons and led a push for Australia to gain membership of the United Nations Security Council. Sir Nigel said:

The extent to which we've been making our own decisions has been underestimated. If we find ourselves going along the same line as Britain or the U.S., it doesn't mean we are dancing to their tune. It means we have made a judgment and decided to do so. You make an independent judgment, but you don't make a fetish of being independent.

It was a sensible and quite enlightened position for the time. Sir Nigel remained as foreign minister until a change of government 16 months later.

  As my friend John Mansfield QC, President of the Law Council, said in a tribute to Sir Nigel, he gave the Federal Court `immense standing' and saw it become a court of great eminence. Mr Mansfield also said that Sir Nigel was a lawyer of great learning, yet a modest man of the utmost courtesy, spoken of fondly by all who knew him. Again, I offer sincere condolences to Lady Bowen and Sir Nigel's family.