Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Monday, 10 October 1994
Page: 1316


Senator MICHAEL BAUME —I too would like to join in this condolence motion. I had the honour, as the senior senator from New South Wales, to represent the President at Sir Nigel Bowen's funeral on Saturday. The Hon. Bob Ellicott, another former Attorney-General, gave an outstanding eulogy at that ceremony, and I am indebted to him for some of the information I wish to present to the Senate today.

  As we have already heard, Sir Nigel was born in May 1911 in British Columbia, Canada, of an English mother and a Welsh father. The family then moved to Australia, where his father bought a sheep property near Gunnedah. Nigel's brother Brian was born there in 1912 but, when drought brought this endeavour to an end around 1915, his father wisely decided to take up again what he knew best—accountancy—and the family moved to Ashfield in Sydney, where his youngest brother, John, was born in 1916.

  From 1922 to 1927 he attended the King's School at Parramatta. These were not easy financial times but, with the help of a scholarship, the fifth form prize and a university exhibition, he completed his schooling and moved on to complete arts and law degrees with distinction at the University of Sydney. He also won an exhibition to St Paul's College.

  He not only had a distinguished academic career but also was a keen sportsman. He played cricket for St Paul's firsts, and first grade university rugby as scrum-half. He even tried his hand at boxing. It pointed out one of the great qualities of his life: he was a born all-rounder.

  After graduating with second class honours in law, he completed his articles and became a solicitor at Sly and Russell. In 1936 he was admitted to the bar.

  World War II was another challenge he met, exhibiting the high qualities of leadership and community service which marked the whole of his life. After war broke out he enlisted in the AIF, trained with the 3rd Armoured Regiment and was selected to undertake an intelligence officers course before being chosen to become a member of staff with the First Australian Army Headquarters in Brisbane, where he rose to the rank of captain.

  Late in 1943, Major Mitchell, who had been commissioned to establish a new water transport unit to be known as the No. 43 Landing Craft Company, sought and obtained the then Captain Bowen's posting as second-in-command and adjutant of the new unit. After training, the new unit distinguished itself in the task of inshore supply and the provision of mobility in the roadless north of Papua New Guinea during the jungle campaigns of the war. In March 1945 Captain Bowen led a dangerous reconnaissance expedition among hazardous reefs to the water off enemy-held territory west of Wewak to determine whether a landing craft base could be established there.

  No. 43 Landing Craft Company had within its ranks an unlikely trio—Captain Nigel Bowen, Captain Frank Packer and Corporal Ninian Stephen. It was quite a company! Demobilised in February 1946, he resumed practice and in 1947 he married Eileen, who had been an army nurse and whom he loved dearly throughout her life.

  From early 1951 Bob Ellicott, eventually to become another Attorney-General, read with Nigel Bowen and for a long time shared his and other chambers on the second floor of Denman Chambers, a very interesting floor that included Whitlam, Kerr and Wootten. Nigel Bowen took silk in 1953, and by 1959 had become a leading silk of the New South Wales bar and one of the leaders of the Australian bar.

  He became President of the New South Wales Bar Association in 1959, and in 1960 Vice-President of the Law Council of Australia. In 1964 Garfield Barwick became Chief Justice and Nigel Bowen replaced him in the Commonwealth parliament as member for Parramatta—a seat which had been held successively by ministers of state: Sir Frederick Stewart, Sir Howard Beale and Sir Garfield. The then Mr Bowen did not break that chain.

  He had a deep concern for the people and their welfare; for the rights of women and the individual's rights in the face of government. His political life bears testimony to all those things.

  In December 1966 he became Attorney-General and immediately began a process of reform which reflected his fundamental political values. He thought it was time that the High Court became the ultimate court of appeal for Australia, and appeals were abolished from that court to the Privy Council. He established a committee under Sir John Kerr to report on a system of administrative review to protect the individual from Commonwealth bureaucracy, and a committee to reform the Judiciary Act to improve the federal system of justice.

  People had been talking about a new federal court for years. He acted. He settled and introduced a bill to establish such a court. In November 1969, however, he left the office of Attorney-General and became Minister for Education and Science, an office which he held with distinction but only for a short period. In August 1971 he became foreign minister until the McMahon government lost office in 1972. As foreign minister he met with representatives of the People's Republic of China in Paris and recommended to Mr McMahon that recognition should take place. The Prime Minister, it is said, consulted the DLP and decided not to proceed.

  In 1972 Nigel Bowen appointed a delegation to negotiate the seabed boundaries between the then Indonesian West Timor and north-west Australia. In October 1972 he signed the treaty which recognised and accepted Australia's rights to the bulk of this seabed. This and other initiatives he undertook on the law of the sea were of immense significance to Australia.

  After the 1972 election many of his colleagues recognised his leadership potential. He stood for the position of Leader of the Opposition, but lost by one vote. How different the history of this country may have been had he won.

  In politics both sides regarded him as a person of great quality and dignity. He did not engage in the game of rough, backroom, passageway politics—all too familiar to those who have been in this place. He emerged by the sheer quality and integrity of his personality as a leader among his peers. As Bob Ellicott said, he was a delightful colleague and his capacity was deeply missed by the parliament.

  By 1973 he was 62 and he became successively a judge of the New South Wales Court of Appeal and Chief Judge in Equity where the quality and dominance of his intellect and his sense of justice were quickly recognised. In 1976, when the Hon. Bob Ellicott was Attorney-General, the Federal Court of Australia Act was passed. It was not without controversy because the court was seen by some as a threat to the state supreme courts. It was essential to find a chief justice whose administrative and intellectual capacity would ensure its success, so Mr Ellicott approached Nigel Bowen. Under his leadership the future of the court was assured.

  He frequently sat in its appellate jurisdiction and, through his judgments, made significant contributions to the law it administered. Importantly, he was deeply involved in pioneering the implementation of the court's wide jurisdiction in trade practices and administrative law. His chief justiceship of the Federal Court was probably his greatest contribution to our national life—no doubt because he had the time to complete his task. The nation recognised his years of public service when he was created a Knight Bachelor and a Companion of the Order of Australia.

  Nigel Bowen was a great Australian. He loved his family: his widow Ermyn and his daughters Pam, Dianne and Vivienne and his brother John, to whom we express our condolences.

  Question resolved in the affirmative, honourable senators standing in their place.