Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21297

Ms GILLARD (2:33 PM) —Jim Cairns was born at 22 Drummond Street, Carlton on 4 October 1914. For many years the ALP's secretariat in Victoria was located at 23 Drummond Street, Carlton, so it may be that even the place of his birth was a symbol of the life to come. In that life, Jim Cairns was to rise to being a symbol of the Vietnam protest movement that changed forever Australia's perception of itself and its politics, the public intellectual leader of the Australian Left and, ultimately, federal Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister. Indeed, he rose to being within four votes of leading the federal Labor Party at a crucial time in its and the nation's history.

Jim Cairns started his working life humbly, chopping wood and then working without pay in a small and very unsuccessful radio shop. He joined the police force, enlisted in the army and then became a senior tutor in economic history in time for the 1946 academic year at the University of Melbourne. It was in this period that Jim Cairns's radicalism was born. In 1947, despite his criticism of the Australian Labor Party, he joined it. Published in the same year was an article by Cairns entitled `Wot, No Socialism', in which he criticised the Labor Party for having:

... adopted a policy of day to day objectives strictly within the capitalist status quo. In other words, the Labor Party is the `left wing' capitalist party and is not a socialist party at all.

In my friend Paul Strangio's excellent biography of Jim Cairns, entitled Keeper of the Faith, it is recorded that, when asked about the apparent contradiction of joining the Labor Party that he so harshly criticised, Cairns said that he had `always been disillusioned with the Labor Party' but `it was the most effective means of political action available in Australia'. It was that duality of view that governed Cairns's approach to politics and the Labor Party throughout his political life.

Jim Cairns was elected to this House as the member for Yarra in 1955. After the abolition of that seat he was elected as the member for Lalor from 1969 until he left parliament in 1977. It was not a happy transition. On the abolition of Yarra, Jim Cairns believed he should move to the seat of Melbourne, and believed that Arthur Calwell had agreed he would vacate the seat for Cairns in those circumstances. As Paul Strangio notes, Calwell announced—rubbing salt into the wounds—that he was staying to keep Labor honest on Vietnam. A preselection battle that would divide Labor locally and nationally ensued. It was finally resolved when, despite probably having the capacity to win the preselection battle for Melbourne, Cairns indicated his preparedness to go to Lalor. Jim Cairns was required to win Lalor back from the Liberal Party. At the 1966 election, in a never-to-be-repeated upset result, Mervyn Lee, the Liberal candidate, defeated Labor's Reg Pollard, despite Pollard's primary vote being 55 per cent higher. I believe it was one of those nights on which the Liberal leader was told his man in Lalor had won and had to ask the name of the candidate.

Despite his reluctant move to Lalor, Jim Cairns served it well. In his first speech to this parliament as the member for Lalor, he complained about a hepatitis outbreak in Lalor and the government's plans to increase the cost of medicines, and noted the need for the government to get the agreement of the AMA to its proposed health changes. One is driven to remark that perhaps, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Even though he was by then a nationally prominent politician as the leader of the anti-Vietnam war movement, which was nearing its peak, Cairns never ignored his electoral grassroots. Innovatively, he established a mobile caravan electoral office in which, virtually every weekend, he would travel around different parts of the electorate and meet with constituents. Lalor locals remember that once a month, on a Saturday, he would come to Werribee and meet with constituents out of his car in Station Street.

His close friend, Tom Uren, used to express concern that Jim was too much of a parish pump politician. Uren worried about the time spent by Cairns on his constituents despite his onerous broader obligations to the Labor movement. Locals still remember the extraordinary lengths to which he would go to help constituents. Indeed, at various times, he offered his own home to displaced people. Cairns established warm relations with ethnic communities and is remembered for his attendance at functions at the Werribee Italian Social Club. He is remembered locally, by those who knew him, as a gentleman.

Frank Purcell, who is both a great friend of mine and a leading member of the Liberal Party in Lalor, ran in the 1974 and 1975 election campaigns against Cairns. He recalls that, at the declaration of the polls, Cairns intervened to stop overenthusiastic Labor supporters jeering while Frank conceded defeat. As others have noted today, Cairns will always be most remembered for his role in leading the Vietnam moratorium movement and holding such high office in the Whitlam government.

On 10 August 1977 he announced he would not restand for Lalor at the forthcoming election. He was replaced by my predecessor, Barry Jones. Barry Jones in his 1978 maiden speech in the House of Representatives said the following about Jim Cairns:

He served Australia as a crusader for great causes—against the Vietnam War and for a more loving, compassionate and co-operative society. His career, which seems to many to be ultimately a failure, illustrates the difficulty in trying to reconcile the pursuit of love and the pursuit of power—a dilemma which faces or ought to face us all. If we devote ourselves to the pursuit of power we ultimately destroy ourselves... On the other hand, if we pursue love, we may opt out of the struggle for power. In this way we abandon the struggle to those who are willing to use the bludgeon or the boot without compassion.

Jim Cairns rose to be Treasurer and Deputy Prime Minister, but I think he would rather be remembered as a teacher and a prophet of the alternative lifestyle.

His estrangement from Labor in his later years is well known, but I would like to conclude with one very happy moment. On Saturday, 21 October 2000 Jim Cairns and Barry Jones attended a ceremony at Melbourne Town Hall to receive medallions to note their long membership of, and long service to, the Australian Labor Party. This is the one and only occasion on which I met Jim Cairns. I have from the meeting a photograph of Jim, Barry and I—the members for Lalor from 1969 until the present day. He told me on that day that, when asked in 1977 who he would like to see inherit his seat, he said that he would like it to go to a woman. He said it was his view that women do less harm than men and that they feel the value of life. I thank the House for this opportunity to recognise a great man and to recognise the enormous value of Jim Cairns to the electorate of Lalor, to the Labor Party, to politics and to Australia. I offer my condolences to his son, Barry, and to his daughter-in-law, Alyce.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!

The SPEAKER —I understand it is the wish of all honourable members of the House to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The SPEAKER —I thank the House.

Mr ABBOTT (Warringah—Leader of the House) (2.42 p.m.)—I move:

That the debate be adjourned and the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.

Question agreed to.