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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16387


Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) (2:15 PM) —I rise to join the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in paying tribute to William Charles Wentworth, undoubtedly one of our most colourful and passionate politicians. He was a member, as has been noted here, of one of Australia's most notable families, the great-grandson of the first William Charles Wentworth who crossed the Blue Mountains in 1815 and became a prominent colonial politician.

It is said that Bill Wentworth inherited many of his great-grandfather's qualities: he was strong-willed, passionate and independent. They are all important qualities for a politician to have, but his ferocious views and his love of controversy meant that he only held ministerial office for a small part of his long political career. I did not know him but I got in touch this morning with Ian Sinclair, who was in cabinet during the period from 1968 to 1972 when Bill Wentworth was a minister. Ian remembers that Bill Wentworth had a thousand solutions to every problem—40 or 50 of which would be quite brilliant. In the late 1930s, for example, he saw the future with unflinching clarity. He challenged Prime Minister Lyons at a United Australia Party convention about the government's defence expenditure.

In January 1939, when many were committed to appeasement—it is not often remembered that they were not only in America and Britain; there were many in this country as well—he published his own book, Demand for Defence, in which he pointed out:

We can postpone war by continued concessions, each concession making our position more untenable in the event of hostilities; but otherwise war will come quickly if it is to come at all. The Totalitarian States are driven to external adventure by their own internal politics; they are anxious to maintain their present momentum of success; and they feel, no doubt, that the democracies are never likely to be more discredited and disarmed than they are today.

Bill Wentworth was a founding member of the Liberal Party. He was elected to parliament in the great swing of 1949. For some 19 years after that he threw himself into committee work. He was one of the great driving forces behind the standardisation of the Sydney to Melbourne railway line. We are still trying to sort out access and a whole lot of other issues that have frustrated rail reform in this nation but we are slowly getting there. The establishment, too, of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies and the 1967 Aboriginal powers referendum drove his great enthusiasm and enjoyed his strong support.

He was a pioneer supporter of John Gorton and became Minister for Social Services and minister in charge of Aboriginal affairs. Ian Sinclair recalls that Bill Wentworth insisted on personally writing his own cabinet submissions, thereby setting a high bar that not many of us, I dare say, were aware of, let alone seek to clear today. They were discursive, wide-ranging and idiosyncratic—something of a reflection of their author. He resigned from the Liberal Party in 1977 after a falling out with the Fraser government. He ran as an Independent for the Senate, and continued to press his ideas in the media—and with many of us—until late in his life. He believed passionately in our country and its future. He was a great Australian—of that there can be no doubt. Today, we honour his memory and express our sincere condolences to his family.