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Monday, 10 October 1994
Page: 1365


Senator SHORT (7.20 p.m.) —In the short time available to me tonight I would like to pay a respectful tribute to a man who was the former head of the Prime Minister's department for many years and who was, in my view, one of Australia's greatest public servants, Sir Geoffrey John Yeend, who died last Thursday on 6 October aged 67, having been born on 1 May 1927. Sir Geoffrey—or as most people knew him, Geoff Yeend—really was a tremendous public servant and a wonderful person. I cannot claim to have been a close friend of Geoff Yeend, but I did know him personally and well over many years. Therefore, I would like to pay this tribute to him.

  He is the second major public service figure to have died recently—the most recent one, of course, was Sir Frederick Wheeler, who died at the age of 80 just a couple of months ago. In many ways they were both of the same school and of a similar mould because they believed totally in the integrity and impartiality of public service and in the essential value of the due process of administration as the only way to lead to ongoing impartial and correct policy making decisions.

  In my remarks tonight I shall draw very heavily on some of the comments that have been made in obituaries in recent days, particularly by John Farquharson in the Canberra Times and by Stuart Hamilton in the Australian. As far as Geoff Yeend's career was concerned, his whole life was spent in public service. He started in the Commonwealth Public Service in 1945, or thereabouts, when he joined the then very powerful Department of Post-War Reconstruction. He joined that department after having spent a couple of years towards the end of the war in the 2nd AIF.

  He spent four years in the Department of Post-War Reconstruction before joining the Department of Prime Minister in 1950, where he was the personal assistant to the then head of the Prime Minister's department, Sir Allen Brown. After a couple of years he went across to the Old Parliament House, where he was the principal private secretary to the then Prime Minister, Mr Robert Menzies, from 1952 to 1955. I draw the Senate's attention to the fact that he became principal private secretary to Robert Menzies at the age of 25, which is something worth noting.

  After that he went to London, where he was an assistant secretary to the Australian High Commission between 1958 and 1960, having gone back to the Prime Minister's department after his stint with Menzies. In 1961 he was appointed an assistant secretary to the Prime Minister's department and six years later a first assistant secretary. In 1971 he won a Churchill fellowship and went abroad for about six months on that fellowship, something that he always very highly regarded. When he came back in 1972 he was appointed deputy secretary to the Department of Prime Minister. In 1977, or thereabouts, he was appointed by the then Prime Minister Fraser as head of the department following the death of Sir Alan Carmody.

  He had the wonderful knack of being able to serve governments and leaders of all political persuasions with equal impartiality. He worked through governments ranging from the Curtin years through to the Hawke years. He retired due to ill health in 1986 whilst head of the department under Prime Minister Hawke. Stuart Hamilton, who worked with him for many years, in his article in the Australian stated:

Many qualities stood out for those fortunate to work with Yeend: his calmness at times of crisis . . . his essential decency and integrity; his capacity to distil the essence of a complex argument or tortuous negotiation in a short well-crafted piece of advice, with a cunningly placed sting or sweetener that would entice the recipient; his great kindness to staff at times of private stress; and his capacity to attract and act as a mentor to staff from around the service—no fewer than 13 officers who worked for him as secretary at some point in their career went on to become secretaries of Commonwealth departments.

. . . . . . . . .

  He took a deep interest in Public Service renewal and reform throughout his career . . . His interests were not limited to his career, nor was his commitment to service. He had longstanding involvement with hockey at the local, national and international levels . . .

He worked with many service organisations as diverse as the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the National Gallery Foundation, the Australia-Japan Foundation, the Australian Volleyball Association, the National Eisteddfod and the Menzies Memorial Trust.

  On his death last week many people have paid tribute to him. The Leader of the Opposition, Alexander Downer, very rightly stated:

"Sir Geoffrey will be remembered as much for the many things he achieved as for the person he was: wise, kind and generous . . .

"He was an outstanding Australian who excelled in his many fields of endeavour and whose qualities of integrity, loyalty and service made him so respected and admired throughout the community."

The former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, who, as I said, appointed Sir Geoffrey as head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in the late 1970s, described him as follows:

. . . "one of Australia's best public servants in the traditional sense, something we have probably lost for all time because of the politicisation of the Public Service.

  "Any government would have had total faith in Sir Geoffrey . . .

To those of us who had the privilege of knowing him at some stage and in some way during his long and illustrious career, I think we would certainly say `Amen' to that. To finish on a lighter note, it was of Sir Geoffrey that the famous story, which apparently is true, has come through the folklore of recent years. In 1982, when the then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser was hospitalised, Sir Geoffrey, as his permanent head, and Doug Anthony, who was the acting Prime Minister, went to see Malcolm Fraser in hospital. While they were there the program Yes, Minister was playing on television. They all stopped and had a look at this segment of Yes, Minister. Walking out after having seen Malcolm Fraser, Doug Anthony and Geoff Yeend said one to the other, `Did you notice that we all laughed but at different spots?'

  That in many ways epitomises a great deal about Geoff Yeend. He was a person who lived with politics. In many ways he was above politics. In many ways he was a very skilled bureaucratic politician, getting the best out of everyone in the governments for which he worked in such an impartial way. He will be very sadly missed by all of those who knew him. To his widow Laurel and his family, I extend my deepest sympathy.