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Thursday, 19 November 2009
Page: 8413


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Leader of the Government in the Senate) (3:34 PM) —I want to make a couple of remarks in marking the occasion of Harry Evans’s retirement from the Senate. I know he is finding this excruciatingly painful and argued that it should not occur. But this is our revenge for all the times that he has frustrated us; this is our chance to exact revenge by talking about him! It is a long tradition in the Senate: we never say anything nice about anyone until they retire. So on this occasion, Harry, I am happy to say something nice about you in that great tradition of the Senate.

Your career is one of the great public service careers of your period. Your tenure as Clerk of the Senate has been a historic one in terms of its length and the contribution that has been made. It is going to be difficult to imagine the Senate without you, but we have been very lucky to ensure that we have a very able replacement. When I think about it, only Senators Boswell and McGauran were around in the day when you were not the Clerk. The rest of us have only known life with Harry Evans as the Clerk.

We certainly want to acknowledge your tremendous service. We also want to acknowledge that Harry Evans’s career has been devoted to the Australian parliament and the Senate. Harry joined the Parliamentary Library over 40 years ago as a researcher, after graduating from the University of Sydney with honours in history. He went on to work for various Senate committees before becoming Clerk Assistant in 1983, Deputy Clerk in 1987 and, finally, Clerk of the Senate in 1988.

As the longest serving Clerk of either house of parliament since Federation, Harry has crossed paths with three different governments and four prime ministers. Throughout that time he has forged a reputation as the Senate’s greatest champion, an outspoken defender of its independence, as well as a strong advocate for its role as a house of scrutiny and review. I think every government since 1988 has had its frustrations with him and has sought at various times to control or limit the power of the Senate, but they have had to confront Harry’s formidable knowledge of the Senate’s powers and processes and his fearlessness in defending them.

Described as parliament’s protector, Harry’s outspokenness has often put him at loggerheads with governments and politicians of all political persuasions over the years. I guess you can take it as a mark of independence that all governments during this period have had frustrations with the advice he has provided. I think Paul Keating once said that he would sack him if he could. I know that he came under enormous pressure during the period of the Howard government’s majority in the Senate from 2005 to 2007. One of our colleagues perhaps got a bit carried away on a couple of occasions, and I think there was a dispute in 1999 about seeking to have the Clerk’s tenure reduced to a two-year renewable contract. I am sure that was an unrelated event, but it did seem to focus minds on the independence of the Clerk.

It does take a courageous public servant or minister to stand up to a Prime Minister at the best of times, but I think Harry Evans has established a reputation for doing that in a way that displays integrity, principle and steadfast resolve. I have not always agreed with his advice, but I have always found it to be professional and independent, and I think his advice and the way he has conducted himself have earnt him respect and admiration from all sides of politics, from the media and in the broader community.

It is always the case that the Clerk’s advice, be it from the Clerk or the deputies, is much more popular with the opposition and minors than it is with the government of any persuasion, because successive oppositions rely on the advice and assistance of the Clerk in trying to match the superior resources and advice available to government. It is a feature of our system that government has more resources and more sources of advice and that in opposition, as I am sure Senator Minchin is finding—and I hope he will long do so—the resources available are limited and the alternative sources of advice are narrow, particularly if you are not prepared to pay for them. I know that parties like the Greens and the Independents very much rely on that advice. I am sure they will make that point. But, having worked with Harry as opposition whip, as opposition leader and now as government leader, I have always found his advice to be consistent, based on accurate assessment of the situation and fiercely independent.

Harry’s defence of the Senate has been very much of benefit to the Senate and our parliamentary democracy. He is, of course, also a vocal advocate of parliamentary reform, and has been published widely on the subjects of parliamentary process, constitutional issues and government accountability. I was very surprised, though, on one occasion when a friend of my sister, who is a public servant in town, asked if my sister could organise for me to request Harry to personally sign her copy of Odgers. I was able to do so and she was immensely grate-ful. Otherwise, she seemed quite a normal, respectable person, but why she wanted a signed copy of Odgers is beyond me! I must say that I do not leaf through it as much as I should, but on your retirement, Harry, I might actually get you to sign one of my copies as a record of the Senate. So there are fans of the Clerk of the Senate out there.

I think Harry’s period as Senate Clerk has been associated with the development of the Senate in the period from 1981 onwards, when we have seen the Senate move into a very different role, assert its authority and have minor parties and Independents having the balance of power in the Senate. I think we have seen the development of the Senate into a serious house of review, one that can and does hold governments to account and that examines executive actions. We have also seen, through the committee processes, the opening up of the legislative process to the wider community.

Harry has been here at a time when the Senate has really reinforced its role in our parliament and our democracy and has been widely regarded as being a very effective political institution. Harry has obviously been associated with that in his defence of and advice on the independence and powers of the Senate. As I said, when you are in government you are usually less keen on that, but I do accept it, and I have always argued that the development of that role for the Senate is an important part of the robustness of our democracy. Even when in government, when we have occasionally found it uncomfortable, I think it is very much to the benefit of our democracy.

Harry Evans’s association with that period and the development of the Senate role has been a crucial one. I know he has had a remarkable passion and energy for his role, but I think he is now keen on pursuing other activities. I suppose the way I would best describe Harry’s career is that it represents the very best of the concept of public service. Kim Beazley always makes the point to me about the value of public service and how it is not recognised enough and not apprec-iated. Certainly, since being in government, I have come to recognise how many people serve governments in the best of those traditions. I think Harry is appropriately associated with and recognised as being one of those persons who have delivered excellent public service throughout their career.

As Geoffrey Barker once wrote, ‘Thank God for Harry Evans! In an age of bureaucratic mice, the Clerk of the Senate is a lion who roars.’ It may have a touch of hyperbole but it is an appropriate recognition of the contribution Harry has made. Harry, on behalf of all members of the government, and Labor senators in particular, we congratulate you on your career. We apologise for the fact that you have had to sit through this tribute, but we do wish you all the best for the future and we do think that the culture that you have created through your leadership in the Senate and that is reflected in the work of the other Senate clerks and employees is a very strong public service culture and makes a huge contribution to parliamentary democracy in this country. All the best.