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Wednesday, 8 February 2017
Page: 438


Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (18:24): I too rise to make some comments about Russ Gorman. I am grateful to the House magazine of 4 October 1989, which records a piece about Russ, and it reminds me that he was born a long time ago—on 20 July 1926. So he passed away at the age of 90. I recall reading comments he made at his retirement from the parliament in 1996. One of the reasons he gave for moving on was that he was a bit crook. Well, if he was a bit crook then, I am suspecting he must have had a really good retirement. He was not an ordinary man in any sense. I served with Russ from 1987 to 1996. He was of a type, and in that period of the parliament there were a number of people who served who, in the history of the Labor Party, will be known for the way in which they approached their work and for, sometimes, doing some fairly outlandish things, and Russ was among them. Looking through the list of people who stood for the election in 1987 who served in the parliament with Russ from New South Wales, they sort of fit this mould—hard men, and they were men, who did not mind telling it how it was and, in fact, did tell it how it was more often than not. There were people like Ted Grace, whom some of you will remember; and of course an old mate of mine and a bit of a notorious character around here for some of his behaviour, Eric Fitzgibbon—the member for Hunter's father. He was a character, as was Russ. But there were others and there were some magnificent people who served this parliament during that period, and Russ had a role in that place.

He did not see himself as a quintessential parliamentarian. Indeed, on his retirement he gave a speech which was noteworthy because he said: 'I must say that I will hold a record in this place for having made the least number of speeches in the 13 years that I have been here. I think that will be a record that will stand for some considerable time. This is my second major speech; you could say my maiden speech was the other one. Apart from a few remarks about reports, this is the only other speech that I have made.' So he had a view about this place and he expressed his view quite strongly. At the time, Bill Mandle wrote an article about Russ in The Canberra Times: 'The honourable member for Greenway got up and said he has only ever made two speeches … and he said, "I will give $1,000 to any member here who has made a speech which has influenced the course of legislation. It just does not work. The Prime Minister has his riding orders as a result of cabinet decision; speeches are worth zilch. There is not much point in making speeches here. I find this place a huge, colossal bore—I honestly do. When I think of question time, I think of little kids fighting in the playground. If the good fairy came along and said to me that you can have one wish, I would come down here in the dark of night and slash, down would go the House of Representatives and slash, down would go the Senate."'

So he did not have a great belief in the oratory that we often think we can partake of when we are in the parliament. Nevertheless, he was a very effective member for his constituents. He did sit where sat in the parliament so he could nobble the ministers and the Prime Minister as they came into the place, and he was not short of a word when it was required. He did not stand back when he thought he needed to make sure his view was understood.

While born such a long time ago, Russ was—as were a number of people who served during that period—a veteran of the Second World War. He contributed to our great country as a serviceman. He was not an educated person in the same sense that you or I might be—those of us in this place now. Sadly in a way, if you do not have a degree you are not really accountable; you are not seen as being with it. We do not have many blue-collar workers in this place. During that parliament we had them, and Russ was one of them. He epitomised the attitude of the many blue-collar workers around the country at the time.

He did not have a great deal of love for authority. That was very clear in the way he approached the place. I want to quote from Alan Ramsey's article, from 7 November 1987 in TheSydney Morning Herald, in which he is talking about a private meeting of the Labor Party in which Russ made a few comments. At one point Russ provoked the then Treasurer, Paul Keating, who was minded to make some comments about Russ's intervention. Russ, to provoke the Treasurer, was equally frank. He said, 'If youse blokes', he said at one point in a broad verbal sweep of the cabinet, 'would stop stroking'—forgive me! I really cannot say it.

An honourable member: Go on.

Mr SNOWDON: 'Stop stroking' blah 'and get out there in the electorate, you will find out what the people really think of you.' And there were other colourful remarks. I am pleased I did not have the gall to actually say what he really said, because I would embarrass myself—which is unusual, I have to say.

An honourable member: I suspect we might all be pleased.

An honourable member: That's unheard of!

Mr SNOWDON: Russ was a unique person, and he gave life to the views, views which I think would be held by many today, of those many people we say are not inclined to be attached to the political class. Here was a man who spoke his mind, who saw his job being a working man to represent the people he was elected by in the two electorates that he served, and he did it well. He did it well.

He did not see himself as a potential minister; he saw himself as a member of the parliament doing a job representing the interests of his electors, which is something we all aspire to. He did it in a different way, no doubt, to all of us, but nevertheless he was a unique individual. He displayed traits—he had traits that some of us in this parliament might find difficult to deal with. With social media and all the rest of it, I think we could probably be thinking maybe it was better then, in many ways. You could work in a place like this—Russ could work here and be effective. He did not see himself as the person who had to be down there, doing the doorstops every morning; he saw himself as getting things in his electorate by working through the executive of the government of the time because he had the opportunity to serve in two of the best governments of this country—that is, the Hawke government and the Keating government. He was very much a Keating supporter. He supported Paul Keating in the two leadership ballots that I was involved in. I voted for Bob Hawke both times; he voted for Paul Keating both times. That is the way it was. It was a lively contest in our place then, and the parliament was all the better for it in my view. We did not shrink—there was no shrinking from actually button-holing people and having a discussion about what it was you thought was appropriate. Russ was one of those people.

I say to his family and friends and those who knew him, those members of the great labour movement: with you we grieve. He made a contribution in his own significant way to this place, and we were the better for having him here.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Claydon ): As a mark of respect, I invite the honourable members to rise in their places.

Honourable members having stood in their places—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I thank the chamber.