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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21342

Mr KERR (5:48 PM) —At the time I was growing up Ivor Greenwood was putting draft resisters in jail and Jim Cairns was living a life of courage, speaking out on behalf of the many Australians who believed that we were dragged improperly into a war which was none of our business and which was being conducted for trivial and improper motives.

Cairns's great work was to bridge two strands of life—public life and deeply personal life. Cairns's life reminds us that public life is a noble calling played out by complex and sometimes inherently flawed individuals. Cairns reminds us our lives are not just the sum of our public success. His public success is why we now rise today and honour him, but we do so in recognition that in every life there are different seasons, and his life had many of those seasons.

Cairns recognised that political life was important. He lectured those who were disillusioned by reminding them that politics appears to be amoral but is no more so than society as a whole. He pointed out that unless a sufficient amount of what he called the new generation goes into the political machine it will not achieve more than its disillusioned predecessors. His view was that all the thoughts of the new protesting generations have been thought before and, unless they are channelled into politics and unless politics is made to change the way society is run, then the old order will have yet another victory.

He also saw that more than politics was important. He pointed out that democracy is not just parliament alone and spoke in hope of whole generations who are not prepared to accept a complacent conservative theory of engagement in their society.

He spoke as one of the first to recognise that any understanding of the desires of our community that is based simply on material gain must always be insufficient. In that sense he anticipated some of the ideas that are now emerging from the Australia Institute and parts of the environmental movement.

Cairns reminds us that the great puzzles of our existence are not answered solely by the acquisition of power. We honour him as a man who achieved great power but we honour him not because of that achievement but because he represents something more—a moral vision of how to live.

Cairns reminds us that sometimes we are actually remembered for things that we least value, and probably he in many ways least valued the part of his life in which he rose to highest office. There is great sadness and irony in this, but it also reminds us that all life begins and ends with a search for meaning. Cairns reminds us that we can choose to be large or small but that any large life must include love. He reminds us that the mix of love and public life creates opportunities for both greatness and the risk of tragedy.

Cairns reminds us that the stereotypes that confine us are laughably false. He reminds us that a policeman can remain a committed defender of human rights; a young athlete can dream of becoming a doctor of philosophy; a Deputy Prime Minister may see all his success as shadow play; and that the old man selling books at the Prahran Market may have been the man who ended the Vietnam War.