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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16386

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (2:12 PM) —I join with the Prime Minister in expressing from this side of the House condolences for the death of William Charles Wentworth. He was a member of this House for 28 years and he was a minister for four years, Minister for Social Services and minister for Aboriginal affairs. His 28 years in the House coincided, all but two of them, with the years that my father served in the House. I can remember on many occasions as a young person being in the gallery in this chamber hearing Bill Wentworth rail forth. He was one of the most colourful and outspoken members to ever sit in this House. While many disagreed with his sometimes extreme views, he was respected for his honesty and for his energy.

His nephew, Mungo MacCallum, in the Australian today points out that during his days as an MP Bill Wentworth was both out of date and ahead of his time. Like his namesake and ancestor, the original William Charles Wentworth, he was at times both radical and reactionary—but he was never predictable. He was strongly—perhaps, we would argue, hysterically—anticommunist. But he was a visionary in championing uniform rail gauges for Australia. He also played a leading role in convincing his parliamentary leaders to conduct the 1967 referendum to include Indigenous people in the census. While it did take the election of the Whitlam government and later the Fraser government to make concrete gains for Indigenous Australians, William Charles Wentworth promoted equal rights for Indigenous Australians, supported moves towards granting land rights and helped shift the tone of national policy away from outright assimilation and towards integration.

He does take us back to an older era, when the federal government's overriding concern was nation building. The Prime Minister talks about his antieconomic rationalist views, but he was a very strong advocate of nation building. That, in the current context, is an era whose time is coming again, as we have identified as part of our agenda for going forward. We on this side of the House would like to think that the radical side of William Charles Wentworth will carry his true legacy. Our condolences go out to his family: his wife Barbara, their four children, their grandchildren and the great grandchildren.