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Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Page: 86

Senator ROBERT RAY (3:51 PM) —by leave—On behalf of the opposition I would like to join Senators Watson and Patterson in paying tribute to the former Clerk of this place. The Senate is basically configured by a provision in the Constitution and controlled by its standing orders. But, if that were all it had, it would not be a successful institution. It also runs on convention and runs on continuity, and some of the people who provide both that convention and that continuity are the clerks of this place. Alan Cumming Thom was very much part of that tradition that has continued for the entire time I have been here, and it existed long before. They never saw their role as being to dominate; they saw it as being to facilitate.

He was a very avuncular man, a very charming person and a person who obviously, if you look at the various successes he had and the success stories since, nurtured a lot of people, including new senators, through this place and was always open to that sort of advice. I only ever clashed with him once and that was over the reprint of Odgers in 1981-82. It was known as the ‘great standing orders massacre night’, in which John Button and I, and eventually Sir John Carrick, decided not to reprint Odgers in its current form because it had made some enormously provocative statements about 1975 which we did not believe the Senate should pay for. As a result of that, the Clerk did get around us very easily. He had it printed by a private printing company and then used Senate funds to buy all Odgers back, so we were done like a dinner on the subject. As it turned out, eventually Odgers became what we regarded as a slightly less partisan volume and it has been reprinted by the Senate ever since.

He will be missed and we should never undervalue the great contribution that he made to this place. We all appreciate it and we all appreciate the fact that maybe he did go a bit early in his career. But 33 years was a long time to spend in the service of his country. He did it well and he will always be remembered for it.