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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21357

Mr GAVAN O'CONNOR (6:55 PM) —I join with the Leader of the Opposition, the Prime Minister, and other members of this House in the condolence motion for Jim Cairns—former member of this House, minister of the Whitlam government and Deputy Prime Minister of Australia. It was with a deep sense of sadness that I heard the news of Jim Cairns's passing. Like many others from the sixties generation, I had an enduring respect for the man who, in a political sense, was a beacon of integrity, decency and compassion in a turbulent world.

In the brief time available to me, I know I echo the sentiments of my good friends Marlene and Shane Rees, and many others like them, who in their youth drew energy and inspiration from the idealist who we now know experienced considerable discomfort in the political mainstream. I grew up in a very turbulent period of Australia's history. It was a time of great social upheaval and confrontation between the generations and the values systems that underpinned them. It was the time of a virtual revolution in music and fashion. We witnessed the confrontation between the mores of established religion and the new values articulated by the proponents of a new lifestyle based on personal freedom. And it was a time of great political conflict.

In my formative political years, I witnessed and participated in the anti-Vietnam War movement that challenged, in a dramatic and public way, the lies of the conservative government of the day. I also participated in demonstrations against the vicious and unjust apartheid regime as well as the nuclear madness that propelled the doomsday clock to one minute to midnight. In this political maelstrom, there was one idealist who inspired us all to continue the social and political struggle on these issues down through the generations, and that was Jim Cairns. He became the rock on which many of our political involvements were constructed in those early years.

I became acquainted with Jim Cairns in a public sense at many of those anti-Vietnam rallies, but I became more intimately associated with him through a series of youth forums he sponsored over his lifetime. I only ever went to two, but they had an enduring impact on my political development. They were forums of a small number of young people who were given the opportunity to express their views in a very open and honest way. We were not dominated or led by the nose by Jim Cairns. He merely provided a vehicle whereby we could express the concerns that we had on issues of the day and propose some political actions that would motivate us into the political arena for a long period of time.

It was many years before I met Jim Cairns again. I was a member of parliament, elected to the seat of Corio in 1993, and I happened to be with friends at the south Melbourne market where Jim Cairns was selling his books. I went over and spoke to him. Of course, there were many young people who came through his forums, and I do not really believe that he recognised or remembered me. But I reminded him of the enduring impact he had on my own political development. He was an idealist of substance. He was a man of action, a man of great conscience and compassion. It is a very sad time for the Labor movement when we mourn the passing of one of Labor's great warriors and one of Australia's great political figures.

Question agreed to, honourable members standing in their places.