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Monday, 16 June 2003
Page: 16387


Ms MACKLIN (2:18 PM) —I join with the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of National Party in recognising the achievements of William Wentworth. In particular, he will be remembered by me for his very active role in correcting what has to be said to be the grave injustice that this nation inflicted upon our Indigenous people over the first 1½ centuries of our modern life. The former member for Mackellar was instrumental in convincing the federal government of the day to hold a referendum to include, for the first time, Indigenous Australians in the census. It was a groundbreaking, though very long overdue, move that paved the way for full citizenship rights for Aborigines. It says a lot about Mr Wentworth's unconventional character that he is remembered for such an achievement.

A member of a very famous and wealthy family—and as a founding member of the Liberal Party—he nevertheless exhibited a very genuine concern for some of the most disadvantaged people in our community. This concern was borne out when Mr Wentworth became Australia's first federal minister for Aboriginal affairs in the Gorton government. It was a portfolio that he took to with his customary energy and zeal until his commission was terminated by the incoming leader, Billy McMahon.

Mr Wentworth also showed himself to be ahead of his day, and certainly ahead of many of his Liberal colleagues, in his determined push to standardise rail gauges. It was thanks, in no small part, to his efforts that the Sydney to Melbourne line was standardised. As his nephew, Mungo MacCallum, wrote today:

These days it is easy to see Wentworth as something of a caricature of the old-style conservative ... But in fact his approach to domestic issues, especially national standards and Aboriginal affairs, was ultra-modern ...

I am sure that everyone in this House will remember him for these very significant contributions that he made to the most disadvantaged in our community.