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Monday, 15 February 1999
Page: 1926


Senator STOTT DESPOJA (10:02 PM) —Tonight I rise to remember the work and life of a great man, a former Premier of my home state, South Australia, the Hon. Donald Allan Dunstan. I was honoured to attend Don Dunstan's memorial service on Friday to honour his memory, along with many thousands of people not only from South Australia but also from across the country and, in some cases, across the world. In fact it was a wonderful celebration of this man's life, his work, his politics, his family, his love of the arts. It took place in the Festival Centre in South Australia.

There was a moving array of speakers, including leading and political figures such as former Prime Minister, the Hon. Gough Whitlam; the South Australian Premier, John Olsen; the opposition leader, Mr Mike Rann; Lowitja O'Donoghue; and his family, specifically his son, Andrew Dunstan. It was a celebration and commemoration of a legacy—not only a Labor legacy but also a labour legacy and a legacy to commitment to social justice that many people in that state for many years have taken heart from.

I bumped into one senator—and he is in the chamber tonight—who said to me, `But you are too young. Aren't you too young to remember Don Dunstan as Premier?'


Senator Schacht —No. I actually said, `But you're a Democrat.'


Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Senator Schacht interjects, I am sure, in the most gracious form, considering the nature of tonight's debate. Yes, perhaps that points to the fact that social justice, commitment to tolerance, multiculturalism, indigenous rights, the arts and all those wonderful things he stood for are values that should be hopefully shared and perpetuated across the political spectrum. Of course, reality is that they are not always. But his legacy was one that touches many more Australians, not those specifically from one political party.

In relation to the comment that someone may be too young to remember his work, of course no-one is too young or too old to remember a legacy or the life and principles of a great man. I actually do remember Don Dunstan as Premier but mostly in his capacity as an arts lover. My mother was a former and the first arts editor for the Advertiser, which meant that I used to go to a lot of theatre events and festival events as her date, if you like. I remember quite amazingly on occasions meeting with the great man himself. He remains an inspiring man and an influence in my political life.

He was a great social reformer. In fact, on Friday Bob Ellis asked the question: can one person really make a difference? Of course he knew full well the answer, I suspect. The reality is that individuals and legislation can change lives for the better. He did change lives. He did change lives through his work not only as an activist and campaigner but also as a legislator. He was a visionary. He was responsible for legislation that was quite groundbreaking.

He was a strong advocate of indigenous rights. When the Labor Party was elected to government in South Australia in 1965, he became the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. I note that, in the nicest possible way, Senator Schacht has said that he will correct me if I get anything wrong with Labor history here, so I am glad he will be following me. In 1965, he became Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and he pursued policies of self-determination for indigenous people and recognised Aboriginal land rights, which had been rejected by all other Australian governments. Even prior to the 1967 referendum he introduced major legislative reforms. These included the Aboriginal Land Trusts Bill 1966, the Prohibition of Discrimination Act 1966 and the Aboriginal Affairs Act Amendment Act 1966-67.

He had a passion for the arts and the completion of the Festival Centre, which we all treasure—and I dearly support the opposition leader's comments on Friday that the Playhouse should be renamed the Dunstan Playhouse. In fact, that is where I first met the former Premier. I would love to see that name change. I do not know whether that was embraced by all on Friday. Senator Schacht might be able to enlighten me, but I wonder if that will happen. I dearly hope that it will. He was Premier at a glowing period in our arts history in South Australia, at a burgeoning time for the arts.

My colleague Senator Vicki Bourne would also like some of her thoughts remembered here tonight. She remembers Don Dunstan's commitment to foreign affairs and human rights issues in particular. His heritage was Fijian. He had a lifelong attachment to that nation. After the 1987 coups, he worked vigorously towards promoting Fijian democracy, visiting Vicki on a number of occasions and impressing her with his ongoing commitment to that cause. There is no doubt that he was a major influence on the promulgation of a new constitution in 1990 and the election of a civilian government two years later.

He was also a leader in the fight for gay and lesbian rights. His first attempt to reform the laws relating to homosexuality in South Australia was in 1965 when he was Attorney-General. After permission had been granted by cabinet, he was knocked back by caucus. He later supported Peter Duncan's private member's bill which sought to decriminalise homosexual acts. That bill was knocked back by the Legislative Council and it was not until after the 1975 state election that this bill vigorously supported by Don Dunstan became law.

I have been particularly inspired by his work in the area of consumer affairs and consumer laws. He initiated an inquiry into consumer legislation in 1966. After being returned to office in 1970, the Dunstan government began a range of reforms designed to implement consumer protections. This included legislation covering unfair advertising, the sale of second-hand cars, door-to-door sales, mock auctions, pyramid selling, manufacturers' warranties, consumer credit, credit rating reports and tenants' rights. Don Dunstan also sought reform in another area in which I have an interest—that is, privacy. In 1974 the Legislative Council of South Australia defeated a government bill which was intended to create a right of privacy. This bill had been opposed by journalists and their representative groups and the Council for Civil Liberties.

Much more recently Dunstan spoke out about drug law reform claiming that heroin users should be treated as people with medical problems and that it should be treated as a social problem as opposed to a criminal problem. He fiercely believed in the future of a multicultural Australia. In 1965 at the ALP policy conference he succeeded in removing the words `white Australia' from the ALP's policy. He introduced legislation designed to prevent racial discrimination and encouraged the creation of a vibrant, multicultural community in South Australia, particularly in Adelaide.

Don Dunstan remained very involved in South Australian politics, society and culture until his death. He spoke vigorously against those who sought to wind back his reforms in our state. He was sorry that some of his reforms were left unfinished. I know that he was a passionate advocate for the republic. The last time I spoke on a podium with Don Dunstan was in fact in the promotion of a republic and an Australian head of state.

Many people around the nation, in our state and indeed across the world mourn his passing, but Dunstan himself said of his memorial:

I don't want simply to have some great occasion, where people are nostalgic about what has happened during my period in South Australia. I am determined that my death will be useful.

We all have the opportunity to continue the work of Don Dunstan through the creation of the Don Dunstan Foundation. It is to be established at the University of Adelaide in the Department of Social Inquiry and will foster research and education in social development issues. I sent my condolences to his family, to his children, Paul, Andrew and Bronwyn, to his grandchildren and to his partner, Steven Cheng. I found Andrew's words, his son, particularly moving and inspiring on Friday at the memorial. I do promise him that many of us do agree with him and believe that, yes, there is work still to be done. I am sure that there are many people in my state and all over this nation who will work very hard to see that that work is done.