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Monday, 25 October 2010
Page: 618

Senator CAROL BROWN (4:30 PM) —With the passing of Ken Wriedt on 18 October, we lost a man known for his compassion, intelligence and sense of justice. I would like to place on record my appreciation of his work and to offer my sincere sympathy to his family at this difficult time.

When I first heard that Ken had passed away my thoughts went to our first meeting in 1983, 27 years ago. I came to know and work with Ken when he was elected to the state seat of Franklin in 1982 and I was working at the state ALP head office. During this time I was fortunate to gain firsthand knowledge of what drove Ken both politically and personally, and what an extraordinary man he was.

As mentioned by Senator Abetz in his contribution, Ken loved sailing. Tasmanians will be ever grateful that Ken, a Victorian by birth, decided to drop anchor in ‘Derwent Harbour’—Ken’s preferred name for our beautiful Derwent River—and called Tasmania home in 1959. With that decision, Tasmania received a man that would serve them for over four decades from 1967 to 1990 at the highest levels in both the state and federal governments.

Ken devoted his life to public service, and a very successful life in public service it was indeed. Ken served the public with distinction, dedication and devotion—a devotion to achieve the best possible outcomes for the people he represented with a willingness to listen and to embrace new ideas based on sound, reasoned arguments.

Ken Wriedt started his political career in 1967 at the age of 40 after joining the Australian Labor Party in 1959. As a senator for Tasmania, he went on to become a minister five years later in the Whitlam government. Ken also served as leader of the Senate. Ken mentored new senators, and everyone that knew Ken described him as an outstanding minister, a man who did not care for dirty politics and a great reformist.

During the last week many accolades and positive retrospective comments have been made of Ken Wriedt, and much has been said of the Whitlam dismissal: the what-ifs and ‘what if the Senate leadership was informed of the Whitlam dismissal.’ We have heard it in contributions here today. I will leave that, as Senator Evans also mentioned, to others to muse over. Of the dismissal, Ken is quoted as saying:

The events of November 11, 1975, were evidence that when the ‘establishment’ is under challenge, it will resort to whatever tactics it deems necessary to maintain its position in Australian society.

We have heard that those tactics were tactics that Ken Wriedt would never lower himself to.

Ken held the federal portfolios of primary industries—later to become agriculture—minerals and energy, and was leader of the Senate at the federal level until 1980 when he quit to contest the federal seat of Denison in a bid to end the Liberals’ hold on Tasmania—a selfless decision that went beyond the call of duty. In 1982 he won a state seat and was the leader of the opposition from 1982-86, at a time when the state Labor needed someone with a steady hand. Ken later became minister at the state level responsible for police and emergency services, and roads and transport portfolios in the Field government.

Ken retired as an elected ALP representative in 1990 but not from his involvement with the Australian Labor Party. He still attended regular branch meetings, still engaged in positive public policy debate and still advised and assisted ALP members when asked.

Ken’s political contribution has been widely reported over the last week but he had many other joys and loves. One of his joys was classical music and his big love was his family. Ken’s beloved wife of over 50 years, Helga, sadly passed away last month. Ken was also very proud of his daughters, Sonja and Paula. Paula contested and successfully held the same seat in Tasmanian state politics that Ken held.

Ken Wriedt was awarded the ALP’s highest accolade, life membership, in 2003 in recognition of his contribution to the Labor movement, his commitment to Labor values and his unwavering support of the ALP.

I would like to echo the Prime Minister’s words:

Ken will be long remembered in this place as one of the true gentlemen of Australian politics, an excellent minister and fine human being…

Ken will be deeply missed, and I offer my condolences to Paula, Sonja and their families at this very sad time.

Question agreed to, honourable senators standing in their places